The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has a short piece out today throwing cold water on the idea that there’s really going to be a ‘Trump TV’ after the 2016 election. My take is that I largely agree with Ryan.
Trump TV has always been a sort of Trump’s Razor test case or ultimate example. Could it really be so ridiculous as the whole campaign was just a vehicle to launch a low-information TV news and propaganda channel? Everything is ultimately a grift for Trump. So it’s totally plausible. Trump’s Razor suggests that Trump TV is not only possible but probable. Indeed, the news out today suggests that Trump’s mini-me and campaign general Jared Kusher (Ivanka’s husband) has been talking to possible financial backers.
But here’s why it’s probably a dubious proposition.
National cable news TV is mind-bogglingly capital intensive. You need to put hundreds of millions of dollars against it to have any shot in what is already in many ways a saturated market. Yes, the bloom may be off Fox to the extent that they’re losing key talent, have already lost their founder and guru Roger Ailes and may lack the full crazy potential of the emerging Trump/Breitbart right. But they still have a stranglehold on not just rightwing cable news junkies but a dominant position in cable news generally. What’s more they have the vast capital investment potential of News Corp. They’re likely more vulnerable to competition on the right than they have been in years. But unseating them will still be very, very hard.
How have competitors done?
Not well. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze has been dying. That’s the best analogue for a personality driven right wing media company with TV or video at its center. And it was a pretty big failure. Beyond The Blaze, the entirety media investment sector is in retreat. Big outfits like Buzzfeed and Huffpo aren’t going anywhere. But they’ve bee underperforming recently in financial terms. And that’s chilled potential VC and private equity investors on whether the big payoffs investors are looking for are really possible.
But the biggest liability is likely Trump himself. As I said above, standing up a national cable news channel involves huge, huge amounts of capital. You need to hire a big work force, build the studio and reporting infrastructure of a cable news network and then you need carriage rights. You have to get a channel that actually ends up in a lot of households. Whatever Trump’s net worth in terms of assets, it is extremely clear that he doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of liquid assets to fund something like that. He also has a pretty bad record with his business ventures outside of core work in buildings, golf courses, hotels etc. If all that’s not enough, the campaign itself has shined a pretty bright and devastating light on his business practices in general and how many previous business partners have been left in the lurch.
In other words, it seems questionable whether he’ll be able to find someone to fund the effort at the scale that makes the whole prospect feasible for a true national cable news or even cable talk network.
Yet another difficult is the toxicity of the Trump brand. Even though there are millions of Trumper’s heavily political and ideological media is a challenge in the ad market. Watch the ads during the day on Fox sometimes – catheters, bomb shelters for preppers and a lot of places that will sell you gold to bury in your backyard at a huge mark-up. Right TV is a challenging ad proposition on its own. Fox makes up a lot of that with bulk. It would likely be even more so for Trump.
But there’s another aspect of Trump and his managerial and business practices that may be an even bigger problem. It’s been striking, having watched Trump’s campaign operation and his business work over recent months, how threadbare and amateurish so much of it is. Trump has been surprisingly stingy with his own money through the final critical months of the fall. His digital ads mainly have the look of pump and dump con artist type outfits. Do you see them on Facebook? They’re comical. The production values of some of his TV spots have been significantly better. But only a few of them. Throughout the whole operation, we’ve seen the recurring patterns of operations on the cheap and just low-end production values that would make it very, very hard to get a news network off the ground with.
For all of these reasons, I think if there’s a post-campaign Trump media vehicle it’s far more likely to be a bargain-basement but perhaps high traffic website on the model of Breitbart: garish, crazy but with a ready market of deplorables who come to TrumpNews.com for their news.