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As News UK begins hiring TV producers, can the UK sustain four news channels?

TVBEurope talks to analyst Gill Hind about the future of news channels in the UK

The UK’s airwaves are about to see an influx of news. Not just coverage of the on-going pandemic, Brexit chaos or the US election, but the launch of two brand new channels.

Last month, Andrew Neil revealed he will be heading up Discovery-backed GB News, while TVBEurope has seen job postings for News UK’s news channel, which is rumoured to be titled Times TV.

But, with advertising revenues down due to the coronavirus pandemic, can the UK TV industry support another two news channels? Anyone remember the ITV news channel of the early 2000s?

According to Gill Hind, analyst at Enders Analysis, it will be dependent on whether the new entrants are defined as news or opinion. “If you’re considering them as a news channel as in BBC News or Sky News, which are very much rolling news, completely impartial, etc, then, I would suggest there probably isn’t room for four stations,” she tells TVBEurope.

“These two new channels seem much more in the mold of Fox News, so opinion rather than ‘proper’ news, and very much look like they’re going to be personality led. The BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4 make sure they’re impartial throughout every programme, whereas here what you’re going to see is biases one way during programmes that are then balanced out by another programme later on in the day.”

Hind adds that neither station can expect to see the size of audiences that the big US cable news stations attract, but they will probably have more viewers than a traditional news channel. “In that way, they might say ‘yes, we can generate a bit more in advertising revenues’, but you’ve also got to think about whether some advertisers might understandably be a bit reticent about opinion-led news because you never quite know what you’re going to be next to.”

News isn’t cheap, and it also isn’t profitable. As Hind points out, when Disney and Comcast were circling Sky News a few years ago, Disney made a commitment to fund the channel for 15 years. “Sky News has never made money, and BBC News’ content costs are nearly £60 million a year. News is a format that does not make money,” she says.

So, does Hind think Rupert Murdoch’s experience with Sky News mean News UK is more willing to lose money on Times TV?

“I don’t think Sky News probably ended up being where he probably would have positioned it for his leanings, but The Times has just launched Times Radio, which is a good proposition,” she says. “I think the TV news channel will differ to that and be more opinionated. Times Radio is actually not an expensive proposition because they already have all the infrastructure in place, thanks to Talk Sport, and they’re using a lot of the same journalists, so the cost of that is not huge. The cost of a TV news station is a very different level. So, I think it will make money for News UK as a totality.”

Finally, does Hind think there is substantial viewer appetite for two possibly right-leaning TV news channels? “Look at all the newspaper readership, which is obviously down as newspapers themselves are going down, but the majority are right-wing, with the Daily Mail attracting the biggest readership. You could argue that those Mail readers will watch one of these two stations,” she says.