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Three million reasons why GB News is changing UK politics
Future News 169: The upstart channel is winning friends in Westminster
The big three – the BBC, ITV and Sky News – used to dominate British political TV. Now, more than two years after it first launched, GB News is cementing itself as a credible contender to the Westminster media establishment.
With a general election potentially on the horizon, both the Tories and Labour are vying for airtime on what was initially dismissed as a right-wing propaganda channel – a poundshop imitation of Fox News, if you will.
Yes, Brexit leaders Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson can now both call GB News home. And yes, the fiery and no-nonsense Conservative deputy chairman Lee Anderson also has a slot on the channel. That’s not to mention Jacob Rees-Mogg’s own involvement with the outlet.
But, and it’s a big ‘but’, GB News has used the past year to recruit wisely, shedding itself of its maverick status in the process.
The appointment of the widely respected Chris Hope (formerly of The Telegraph) as political editor has given the channel further momentum, while the very recent hiring of Adam Cherry, now ex-news editor of Guido Fawkes, means the outlet will have more scoop-hungry hacks on its books.
But probably one of the wisest decisions has been to take on former Labour MP Gloria De Piero. The move has allowed Labour frontbenchers to dip their toes into the otherwise uninviting GB News waters, allowing the party’s spokespeople to raise their profile amongst the channel’s sought-after demographic.
Linear TV tracker Barb has said that three million people regularly tune into GB News each month. Channel insiders, citing this data, claim to be closing the gap on SkyNews and apparently leaving News Corp’s TalkTV in their wake. Now there’s only a 20% deficit in viewership between GB News and Sky News, down from 60% at launch, they said.
Online the channel’s reach is even larger. Its YouTube channel, a platform where an increasing number of British voters are getting their information (OfCom data here), is booming. It recently surpassed one billion views and its most popular videos – mostly about the monarchy – run into the millions.
Under the watchful eye of Chief Digital Officer Geoff Marsh, GB News has made great use of YouTube’s ‘Live’ functionality, whilst regularly uploaded shorts, a format YouTube has been pushing hard over the past year.
And though there is no hard data on who GB News viewers vote for, it’s largely reckoned that the outlet is popular amongst socially conservative yet economically left-wing viewers. Brexiteers, Blue Labour-types and so-called populists. The press equivalent would be something between The Daily Mail and The Express, with shades of The Telegraph.
It’s for this reason that the Labour leadership and broadcast teams see GB News as a “key market we need to speak to” heading into the next election. Labour sources say they are specifically trying to place Shadow Cabinet members on GB News’ breakfast show as well as its Sunday programmes.
In what is expected to be a ‘every-vote-matters’ poll, Number 10 is also trying to get on-side with GB News. The Prime Minister notably only picked three broadcasters following his speech to push back the UK’s net-zero commitments in September. The BBC, ITV and GB News all made the cut, Sky News didn’t.
Equally, the channel is primed to become a king-maker if Rishi Sunak does lose the next election and another Tory leadership election is triggered. A live debate on GB News amongst the Conservative candidates is almost a given. And the hopefuls will also have to win Johnson, Farage, Anderson and Rees-Mogg over if they are still in their presenting posts.
The ‘People’s Channel’ is also attracting a more niche political demographic, lapsed Liberal Democrats of the Monty Python variety. John Cleese has launched his weekly ‘Dinosaur Hour’ on the outlet, with the promise of cats, nuns and the odd joke in between more serious stuff. But at least he can’t say GB News “has ceased to be”.
(2) The secrets of X. Before heading for the UK, Elon Musk dropped by his favourite podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, where he declared that his fundamental motivation to acquire Twitter was to expel a “mind virus” from the social media platform. Heavy stuff. And the remarks came just a day before he joined Rishi Sunak and others at the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park.
As for the state of X/Twitter today, journalists and other observers are forced to use third-party data in a bid to review the platform’s metrics. Axios reckons app downloads are down 38% globally over the past year, while web traffic has fallen 7% over the same period. But with X no longer on the public markets, it’s increasingly hard to gauge whether these stats are accurate or not.
(3) BBC unveils Gaza Daily. Building on a long history of running emergency radio stations, the BBC has launched one for Gaza in response to Israel’s war on Hamas. The outlet will be overseen by the BBC News Arabic service and it will broadcast vital news daily to the people of Gaza.
“It will provide listeners in Gaza with the latest information and developments as well as safety advice on where to access shelter, food and water supplies. Produced in Cairo and London and broadcast on medium wave,” a BBC spokesperson said.
The service will initially run one programme a day at 1500 GMT from Friday 3 November. A second daily update will be broadcast at 0500 GMT from Friday 10 November.
(4) AI interest remains resilient. The hype around AI hasn’t faded. Worldwide search results (see below) show people are still very much interested in all things machine-learning. The same can be said for Big Tech and Wall Street’s investment analysts.
The earnings calls last week were riddled with AI-related references. The following from Google’s Sundar Pichai summed things up: “As we expand access to our new AI services, we continue to make meaningful investments in support of our AI efforts.”
As for Mark Zuckerberg, he announced AI would be the biggest investment for Meta in 2024. “But I want to avoid allocating a lot of new headcount, so we’re going to continue deprioritizing a number of non-AI projects across the company to shift people towards working on AI instead,” he told analysts.
BIden has since announced an AI-focused Executive Order.
(5) Latest lay-offs. Amid a tough ad market and wider macro-economic disarray, news media outlets have turned to lay-offs to keep costs down. Staff at Conde Nast, the parent company of titles including Wired, Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, are now reportedly facing the axe. Bosses are looking to make a headcount reduction of 5%. The cuts will mostly impact staffers working on digital video, Axios has reported.
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