Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has unveiled its bet on the future of British news television with the soft launch of streaming services that will aim to bring the boisterous spirit of its media brands to the small screen.
Murdoch’s News UK announced its debut show, News to Me, would be an entertainment-focused daily panel presented by Gordon Smart, the radio talk show host and former deputy editor of The Sun.
David Rhodes, the former CBS and Fox News executive who is leading the project, said News to Me, which launches in the spring, would be the first of a mix of live programming and on-demand shows that would be rolled out through the year, including a more opinion-heavy politics programme.
Each show will sit under an existing News UK brand — such as The Sun, The Times or Talk radio — and be distributed through streaming platforms and connected televisions, rather than as a traditional television channel.
Rhodes acknowledged the project would be an evolving experiment in a fast growing streaming market that has few news-focused offerings.
“It is going to take time. And we’re going to give it time,” he said. “I don’t think actually the market, necessarily, would be prepared for a kind of big red carpet, Leicester Square, ribbon-cutting launch.”
Even before its strategy was clear, the Murdoch plans were likened to a UK version of Fox News, which would aim to inject US-style opinion and controversy into the more staid and tightly regulated UK broadcasting market.
Rhodes made clear that his plans were not to replicate US cable news, but to serve a UK audience with the “recognisable” mix of personality, attitude and opinion that was the engine of the Murdoch news empire in Britain.
“We will have opinionated people on the service. But, the same as you know we have opinionated people in the comment section of the papers, and certainly opinionated people on talk radio,” he said. “And that will animate some of the coverage. But again, it’ll be a mix.”
News UK has obtained a broadcasting licence from Ofcom, the media regulator, which Rhodes said would be complied with “to the letter and spirit of the regulations”.
But he pointed out the rules were drawn up for an age of traditional television, and were different for online video. Some live programming would include filming News UK’s radio output, for instance, which operates under more relaxed impartiality rules than broadcast television.
“We have a really capable compliance team that is sort of unpacking that and trying to get a sense of where the legal guardrails are,” he said. “We will be within them.”
Rhodes stressed that News UK’s plans were distinct from GB News, the start-up 24-hour news channel backed by Discovery and the veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil, which he described as “a legacy television strategy”.
While acknowledging the market was largely untested, Rhodes said the streaming services were a commercial enterprise in their own right, rather than a promotional vehicle for The Times or The Sun.
“This is not a reach product. This is a commercial product, and this is a product that’s going to make money,” he said, pointing to the potential for automated, personalised advertising on connected televisions.
Drawing parallels with past Murdoch attempts to disrupt the news media, he said the project represented a wager on how television consumption was changing.
“In the company’s history, it has made big bets,” said Rhodes. “Usually those have been directional in terms of, you know, where do we see pay TV going, or where do we see multichannel cable television going,” he said. “Fortunately for me, I’ve been there for a couple of those. And this to me feels like that, in its nascent stages.”
— to www.ft.com