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Why talk of ‘Trump TV’ is not just a cruel joke on America

It doesn’t take a degree from the Wharton School of Business to see a potentially lucrative audience for an operation that’s wilder and woolier than Fox News.

Election experts expect, at minimum, 42 million Americans — most with substantial partisan associations with Fox News, right wing talk radio or Breitbart — to vote for Donald Trump.
REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

In this season of outrageous-to-flat-out-insane theories, the one about Team Trump — meaning former Fox News boss Roger Ailes, Breitbart News Network boss Steve Bannon, various Trump insiders and Trump himself — playing some kind of long con to jump start a more Fox-than-Fox cable TV network after the election has gained credibility in recent days.

Here, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times follows a Financial Times story that has Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner sniffing around just such a deal. Says Haberman:

Kushner, who is married to Mr. Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka, had conversations about the idea with Aryeh B. Bourkoff, the chief executive of LionTree, a boutique investment bank that has helped advise media deals. But such an effort, reported earlier on Monday by The Financial Times, would face enormous obstacles: Creating a television network would require a major cash investment, as well as a willingness by cable providers to carry the network. Without both, discussions of a television network would remain in the realm of fantasy. … ​major cable providers like Charter, Time Warner Cable and Comcast might be reluctant to give Mr. Trump visibility by putting a Trump channel in their lineup.

Talk of what we’ll call “Trump TV” has been around for months and is based on, well, The Base. Election experts expect, at minimum, 42 million Americans — most with substantial partisan associations with Fox News, right wing talk radio or Breitbart — to vote for Trump. And those Americans will vote for him because, not in spite, of his increasingly bizarre assertions. It therefore doesn’t take a degree from the Wharton School of Business to see a lucrative, exploitable audience for a, uh, “service,” that’s even wilder and woolier than Fox News.

Moreover, with the departure of Ailes (with a $40 million parachute) after a summer of disclosures of his own boorish, sexist behavior, the Murdoch heirs, brothers James and Lachlan, are talking about a sea change for Fox News.The shift could be tonal adjustment, with perhaps a lot more Megyn Kelly and a lot less Sean Hannity. A change like that would create a vacuum for a Trump/Breitbart platform, accelerated out of the gate by the “liberal media” “rigging” the Nov. 8 election for  “Crooked Hillary” and essentially leading a 24/7 populist revolution based on the messaging of these last “unshackled” days of Trump’s campaign.

Cynics won’t put much stock in the big cable and satellite operators resisting the currently toxic Trump brand. An audience of 42 million has real appeal to executives reporting quarterly earnings. Even Oprah’s cable network didn’t come with that kind of guarantee, much less Spike, HGTV and all the other niche channels clogging your TV menu.

But amid this talk, investors will take note of the steady decline in the appeal of conservative talk radio, the sort that sparked Newt Gingrich’s revolution in the early ’90s and fertilized the Tea Party ascendancy in 2010.

Here in the Twin Cities, even the High Priest of Bloviation, Rush Limbaugh, has spent years quarantined on low-rated AM radio (KTLK 1130), a far cry from his (and AM radio’s) glory years with Hubbard Broadcasting’s KSTP-AM 1500 and (then) Clear Channel’s KTLK-FM, (which was flipped to sports as Limbaugh, Hannity, Jason Lewis et al were relegated to AM). Stories of Limbaugh’s dramatic loss of appeal to advertisers have been abundant since he called student Sandra Fluke a “slut” four years ago.

As conservative blogger/media watcher Darryl Parks​ wrote last year:

Today’s talk radio, as we know it, is fast fading into the sunset because of a format stuck with 1990’s rhetoric, each day addressing topics few care about. A constant right-wing political drumbeat that no longer resonates. A format where its practitioners can’t define the word entertainment. A format attracting fewer people, men or women, under 65. A format fewer advertisers are interested in buying because of its aging audience.

Premiere Networks and its owner Clear Channel Media + Entertainment [now iHeart Media] has crammed down Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck on its talk stations, not allowing local stations to make needed changes to their programming, changes that could provide some hope of staying relevant. It was a great business model … in the 20th century! In business speak it’s called ‘vertical integration.’ The company produces the product and then uses its distribution arm, its radio stations, to broadcast the shows. Guaranteed clearance, plus in Limbaugh’s case and some of Hannity’s stations, the local stations have to pay a ‘rights fee’ in addition to the barter commercial inventory they broadcast from the network. There was no negotiation whether to broadcast the show or what fee was to be paid. Here’s the number you pay was the only conversation during the budget process. This, as you can imagine, affected cash flow and coupled with the increasing demands for talk stations to generate more profit, it forced local stations to lay-off other talk hosts, producers and gut news departments. Talented people left the radio business and the death spiral for talk radio began. It began years ago.

There’s more like that anywhere you care to look. To cite just one more, here’s Ethan Epstein for Politico:

… even as his influence is sky high and his dominance at the top of talk radio remains unchallenged, as a business proposition, Limbaugh’s show is on shaky ground. In recent years, Limbaugh has been dropped by several of his long-time affiliates, including some very powerful ones: He’s gone from WABC in New York, WRKO in Boston and KFI in Los Angeles, for example, and has in many cases been moved onto smaller stations with much weaker signals that cover smaller areas.

And that’s Rush Limbaugh. So-called “Rush wannabes,” once a glutted commodity on every station with a pulse and 10 watts, are finding themselves relegated to fewer and fewer stations, not to mention, I suspect, significantly lower salaries and endorsement possibilities.

Notable among these lesser-but-once-prominent voices, “angry prophets denouncing the liberal hypocrisies of our times,” to paraphrase Paddy Chayefsky, is the retirement of Charlie Sykes over at WTMJ in Milwaukee, indisputably the conservative voice of the Badger State.

As Dan Bice and Chris Foran of the Journal Sentinel wrote when Sykes made his announcement a couple weeks ago:

Sykes has found himself being taken to task by his own callers, and acknowledges he has lost listeners — all while making regular appearances on left-wing political shows on MSNBC. For others, that is hypocrisy; a staple of Sykes’ work has been the political spin, personal attacks, and incivility he now professes to reject. In numerous recent interviews, he has called into question whether he and others in conservative media helped created an environment that allowed Trump to secure the GOP nomination. He also has suggested that conservative media has ‘created a monster’ by convincing voters to reject mainstream sources of information — something that Sykes himself encouraged almost daily during his two decades on the air.

The takeaway from this seems to be that what remains of the audience for conservative/right-wing broadcasting, is now so old, so white and so far beyond the pale of what can be described as a rational sensibility, the venues for appealing to it are being abandoned by pretty much everyone once described as “traditionally conservative.”

Translation: There’s a yawning vacuum for anyone willing to take a far angrier, fringier game to “the next level,” as they say in sports.