One programmer has already been awarded a license by the Office of Communications (Ofcom), Britain’s media regulator. Pay TV channels in the United Kingdom must secure a license and clear other regulatory hurdles before they can begin operations within the country.
That channel, known by the pre-launch name “GB News,” is aiming to launch with programming that is “distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents,” according to a report published by the Guardian this week.
The channel is backed by two British-American entrepreneurs who have ties to the U.S. cable magnate John Malone. Malone heads Liberty Global, the parent company of Virgin Media and other cable and broadband services. Malone also chairs Discovery Networks, the parent company of EuroSport. It is unclear if Malone himself is participating in the project.
Last week, the website Politicalite said GB News was nearing a deal to sign Nigel Farage, a British politician and pundit who led the charge for Britain’s exit from the European Union, and former BBC commentator Andrew Neil.
A rival project with a similar mission is being bankrolled by a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, the Guardian reports. The Murdoch family currently operates the Fox News Channel and once operated British Sky Broadcasting, a co-owner of the Sky News channel. Both are now owned by Comcast.
Both efforts take aim at the BBC, the taxpayer-subsidized media service funded through a mandated $200 annual license on all homes that are capable of receiving the BBC’s on-air signals through a TV set or computer. (Overseas variants of the BBC are funded by advertising; in the United States, both BBC America and BBC World News are distributed by AMC Networks.)
In recent years, conservative critics have painted the BBC as a pro-liberal propaganda machine in its television programming and news coverage. Some activists have called for de-funding the BBC by reducing the mandate license fee or dropping it altogether.
Those efforts have accelerated since Comcast’s acquisition of the former Murdoch-controlled Sky satellite service and associated Sky News channel. Once seen as a possible alternative to BBC News, Sky News has shifted in its editorial tone to provide more global news and affairs programming from a British perspective since the Comcast acquisition. In turn, Comcast has focused on transforming Sky News into an international news player to rival BBC World News and Al Jazeera, with distribution outside of the United Kingdom playing a central role in its new mission.
Conservative groups see the news landscape in Britain as one that is ready to accept one or two new domestic channels focused on political news and opinion programming that caters to what it considers to be an under-served audience. That was the same mindset behind Fox News when it launched in the mid-1990s, which put into play a new rulebook that focused more on political opinion segments over solid journalism.
Fox’s mission eventually inspired its rival cable news channels CNN and MSNBC to do the same, with debate panels and opinion programming dominating much of the airtime on all three channels throughout the day.
GB News and the unnamed Murdoch-back venture are no doubt seeking to capitalize on Fox News’ success in the United Kingdom by franchising the same idea for one or two new channels in the United Kingdom. At least one has been given a seal of approval by television regulators there.