Rupert Murdoch has abandoned plans to develop a television channel in the UK, initially pitched as Britain’s equivalent to Fox News, after deciding it was not “commercially viable” to launch a traditional rolling news service.
It comes amid growing speculation about the finances being pumped into the imminent rival GB News channel, fronted by Andrew Neil, which has also promised to be a right-of-centre 24-hour television channel built around presenter-led shows.
In an email sent to News UK staff on Tuesday, Rebekah Brooks, CEO of the London-based Murdoch corporation, said hefty costs attached to getting the channel on air meant it did not make business sense to continue as planned.
She said the company would instead focus on reaching news audiences of the “digital age” via shows on streaming platforms: “While there is consumer demand for alternative news provision, the costs of running a rolling news channel are considerable, and it is our assessment that the payback for our shareholders wouldn’t be sufficient. We need to launch the right products for the digital age.”
Ms Brooks also announced that News UK’s TV boss, David Rhodes, an American TV news veteran brought on to develop the project last summer, would be leaving his post in June to advise the wider global Murdoch business on streaming news media.
News UK’s bid to launch Britain’s first conservative, opinion-led news channel was challenged by the announcement of GB News last September – for which a string of high-profile journalists, including the likes of the BBC’s Simon McCoy and Sky’s Colin Brazier, have left their jobs to join.
GB News has already raised £60m from US media company Discovery, Dubai investment company Legatum, and the Brexit-backing hedge fund boss Paul Marshall, securing slots on traditional television distribution platforms such as Freeview.
While it always planned to be a traditional linear channel, aiming to air 6,500 hours of original programming a year, News UK’s channel sought only to be available via streaming services rather than over the airwaves.
Ms Brooks told employees today that News UK would still look to invest in television-style content, such as the growing output produced by its radio stations such as talkRadio, for which the company’s head of radio, Scott Taunton, would assume responsibility.
Studios had been built for News UK TV, and rehearsals for some of its intended programmes were reportedly already under way, likely leaving a number of producers at risk of losing their jobs.
It was announced last year that News UK TV would launch with about five hours of output every night, including an early-evening politics show, a daily political debate programme and an evening news bulletin.
Despite the change in plans, Ms Brooks said News UK will produce standalone shows, with the intention of making money via personalised adverts on smart televisions.
“We have already announced News To Me, an entertainment news show hosted by [ex-Scottish Sun editor] Gordon Smart, which will drop a new episode each weeknight, and will be viewable live or on-demand via streaming. Other shows are planned,” she insisted.
News UK has been approached for comment.