That may be true. But GB News, which launches on Sunday, is likely to have more in common with opinion-driven American cable shows than the news programs currently on air in Britain, shaking up the country’s TV landscape with commentary that wades directly into the culture wars.
Experts on Britain’s media industry say it’s not clear the channel will work as a business over the long run. But it may succeed in attracting an audience of aggrieved viewers, making it a political force similar to the country’s right-leaning newspapers. It’s planning to launch a radio service as soon as next month.
“There’s no question — they wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t believe the BBC and other UK TV news wasn’t excessively woke and liberal,” said Patrick Barwise, co-author of the book “The War Against the BBC” and emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School.
The launch of GB News comes as pandemic restrictions in the United Kingdom have eased, allowing for some semblance of normal life to return as restaurants and pubs fill up. But political finger-pointing over fallout from Brexit and the government’s handling of Covid-19 continues, while cultural issues, such as claims of racism in the royal family made by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, continue to dominate headlines.
“Cancel culture is insidious, it stands against everything we have stood for since the Enlightenment onwards and that is why it is serious,” Neil, who will host a regular segment titled “Woke Watch” on his GB News program, told the Evening Standard.
But the network will try to emulate the format of Fox News and MSNBC, with a focus on big personalities that stalwarts BBC, Sky News and ITV have historically avoided.
“There’s no point in launching another news channel that just does exactly what the existing incumbents do,” Neil said at the Financial Times’ Future of News event on Thursday. “You have to do something different.”
Boosters say GB News will appeal to people who don’t see their concerns being addressed by traditional broadcasters. But even before the channel’s launch, it’s generating pushback. Advocacy group Stop Funding Hate has been calling for an advertising boycott using the hashtag #DontFundGBNews.
GB News has secured £60 million ($84.6 million) from investors including Discovery — which has agreed to a merger with CNN parent WarnerMedia — and the hedge fund titan Paul Marshall. Neil has emphasized that the network wants to make money by its third or fourth year and could then expand into other national markets in Spain or Eastern Europe.
“We determined early on in that review that it was not commercially viable to launch a traditional news channel,” News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks told employees in April.
Gill Hind, a TV analyst at Enders Analysis, said the decision to not launch a new channel “says something about the market,” and could indicate that GB News will struggle to find an audience, even though it will be widely broadcast in the United Kingdom.
Barwise noted that News UK actually had key commercial advantages over GB News, since it would have been able to pool reporting and back offices with its three big British newspapers, The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times — which lost £202 million ($285 million) in the year ended June 2020 — and promote the channel across its products.
That Murdoch still backed off, then, is “very telling,” Barwise said. His view: GB News is “clearly a political project.”