Rupert Murdoch returns to UK TV as UK newspapers look beyond print

Donald Trump appearing to come out of a world-exclusive interview is exactly the kind of episode Piers Morgan needs to bring attention to his show on TalkTV, Britain’s newest television channel. The fact that the former US president claimed his producers doctored pre-release footage only added to the buzz surrounding the channel’s launch on Monday.

Yet however many eyes the presenter attracts on his 75-minute meeting with Trump, the moment will be more significant to mark the return to British television not of Morgan, but of his boss Rupert Murdoch.

The tycoon, who has left the industry since the sale nearly four years ago of Sky, which he created in 1989, is making his latest bid to upend Britain’s broadcast establishment at a time when questions hang over his empire global media.

If TalkTV is successful, it will help protect the future of Murdoch’s interests in a country where his company News Corp retains wide influence but still bears the scars of the tabloid phone-hacking scandal more than a decade ago.

It’s unclear whether the 91-year-old’s potential successors would be as attached to company newspapers such as The Sun, the husky red top he bought in 1969 and peaked in circulation in the mid-1990s. 1990.

After months of preparation, insiders are quietly confident that the fledgling channel will avoid the kind of production issues that marred the launch of right-wing rival GB News last summer.

The launch of TalkTV marks Rupert Murdoch’s return to British television © Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Still, they are far from happy with the debut of the station, which will air for free on terrestrial TV as well as online platforms including Amazon Fire, Apple TV and YouTube.

“I’m part terrified and part very excited,” said Scott Taunton, News UK’s broadcast manager.

Despite all the hype surrounding Trump’s first-day appearance, which TalkTV billed as “the most explosive interview of the year,” the company is keeping broader expectations in check.

Murdoch scaled down his earlier vision of a traditional news channel to directly compete with those of Sky and the BBC. Rebekah Brooks, who runs News UK, had reservations about such an ambitious project, especially given the investment required.

The result is in some ways a multimedia extension of the company’s existing talkRADIO station, which has long dabbled in online video. Using radio programming as the basis for the day’s programme, the project will also tap into the resources of Murdoch’s UK print titles – with reports from their correspondents in Ukraine, for example – and their international stablemates, the Wall Street Journal at The Australian.

“We have this great content. . . [making it] only available in a particular medium for a particular audience seems like a big shame,” Taunton said. “We’re not building a TV news service from scratch.”

News Corp did not reveal how much it is spending on the project, although Chief Executive Robert Thomson told investors in the Nasdaq-listed company that the station, while “certainly impactful”, will be “low cost”.

TalkTV is expected to draw on the resources of News Corp print titles, such as The Sun © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Despite what appear to be relatively modest ambitions, the stakes should not be minimized. TalkTV may well prove to be the most important of several media experiments undertaken by News UK.

Other notable initiatives include Times Radio, an audio spin-off of the 237-year-old national newspaper. After acquiring radio operator Wireless Group in 2016, the company has also developed talkSPORT and Virgin Radio podcasts, and targets younger audiences via social media.

“Much of what News UK has done over the past 10 years or so has tried to secure the future of the business against some pretty tough headwinds,” said former ITV News editor Matt Walsh. who launched the Times multimedia. department and now heads the School of Journalism at Cardiff University. “The shift to broadcasting is a big part of that.”

Murdoch has long championed tabloid journalism, which, at least in print, struggles to retain readers. Longer term, TalkTV could give the company options for The Sun, said Douglas McCabe, managing director of media researchers Enders Analysis.

“There’s probably a recognition that the future of The Sun is very visual,” he said. The TV channel is “a route that could answer a number of different questions. Part of it is whether the tabloid experience should ultimately be more of a video than a text-based news experience.

In the United States, populist news is well established in the broadcast format, as exemplified by Murdoch’s Fox News – in stark contrast to the British tradition, where the quiet BBC accompanies more racy newspapers.

Yet despite claiming left-wing views were already “very well served” by other UK broadcasters, Taunton denied that the coverage would have a right-wing slant, noting that regular contributors would include Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labor leader.

From a dedicated studio in west London, Piers Morgan Uncensored will also air on FOX Nation in the US and Sky News Australia. “You just have to watch the storm [surrounding the Trump interview] to see how interested he is [Morgan] can drive,” Taunton said.

TalkTV studio in West London © Daniel Jones

In another sign of the station’s conversational slant, Morgan is followed on the evening program by Sharon Osbourne. Last year, the media personality quit a CBS talk show in the US after defending Morgan’s outspoken comments about Meghan Markle before leaving Good Morning Britain.

“Controversial television is something that several Murdoch properties on several continents have done quite well” over the years, Walsh said, noting that the company was keen not to cede territory in Britain to US rival Discovery. an investor in GB News. .

McCabe added: “Impression is always hugely important. But, strategically, the company must look to the future.