‘Proud to be a disruptor’: GB News faces growing pains as it tries to clean up image

Right-leaning TV channel to cut costs, hire new talent and enforce ‘discipline’ as it aims for growth

GB News has entered the new year with a new plan: cut costs, hire more major talent, get off an advertising blacklist – and force all producers and presenters to take training workshops brushing up on “the law and Ofcom”.

The controversy-prone, right-leaning TV channel, which has spent a turbulent first 18 months weathering on and off-air turmoil and trying to shake a reputation as the “British Fox News”, is apparently ready to grow up.

Alan McCormick, the GB News chairman, is aiming to make the operation more “disciplined” and none of the approximately 200 editorial staff will be exempt.

In a new year missive to staff outlining the priorities for the business in 2023, seen by the Guardian, McCormick said the first step will be a training schedule designed to help GB News avoid repeatedly falling foul of the media regulator Ofcom’s broadcasting code.

“This will ensure every producer and presenter has the most sophisticated knowledge at their fingertips,” McCormick said. “Initial workshops, on the law and Ofcom, are vital for all with no exceptions. Education is always a great investment.”

In its self-proclaimed mission to be an insurgent force and alternative to mainstream media, the channel continues to blunder into image-tarnishing controversies in the way its presenters and guests handle topics including culture war issues, anti-vaccine conspiracies and, most recently, antisemitism.

Ofcom completed 28 investigations across the broadcasting sector last year, finding 17 breaches of the UK broadcasting code, and it currently has two cases open relating to GB News presenter Mark Steyn’s show, which has repeatedly raised doubts over Covid vaccine safety.

Mark Steyn. GB News
Ofcom has two cases open relating to Mark Steyn’s show, which has raised doubts over Covid vaccine safety. Photograph: GB News

However, while GB News is introducing measures to avoid getting on the wrong side of Ofcom, it will not be shying away from controversy entirely.

“We do have voices that explore topics and areas of discussion that are challenging,” says Angelos Frangopoulos, the GB News chief executive. “We have a breadth of opinion and journalistic experience across the business that are here to challenge and push boundaries.”

Getting one over on arch-rival TalkTV, Rupert Murdoch’s channel built on a £45m deal with Piers Morgan, is another top priority.

GB News is understood to have poached Ben Briscoe, the series editor for TalkTV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored, who also worked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Building credibility is another key aim, particularly after the reputational blow of losing names such as the former lead presenter and chairman Andrew Neil, and the launch editorial director John McAndrew, the ex-Sky News senior executive who has gone to BBC News.

Angelos Frangopoulos
The GB News chief executive, Angelos Frangopoulos, says it has ‘a breadth of opinion’. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Recent hires include Michael Portillo, the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce, and Camilla Tominey from the Telegraph, alongside the former ITV star Eamonn Holmes. They join an on-air lineup that includes the polarising figure of Nigel Farage, who fronts GB News’s most popular show.

“GB News is proud to be a disruptor,” Frangopoulos says. “We have got the launch and early startup phase behind us. We started from scratch and have learned about the [UK broadcasting] landscape. This is a year of growth for GB News.”

Growth is a laudable aim. Achieving it with the UK economy forecast to be heading into recession is another matter. Loss-making GB News is set to make cuts this year – although not to staff headcount – as the macroeconomic downturn affects its already fragile revenues.

“The financial climate could not be tougher, so we must be tougher still,” McCormick told staff. “In almost every area of the company we need to be fitter, sharper, leaner and more disciplined.”

Michael Portillo
Recent GB News hires include the journalist, broadcaster and former politician Michael Portillo. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

Advertising is meant to be the primary source of income for GB News, which rebroadcasts audio from its TV output on its GB News Radio service.

However, the broadcaster has suffered from a widespread advertising boycott by brands that do not want to be associated with some of its output.

“It is a brand safety disaster zone, I’m afraid,” says Richard Wilson, a co-founder of the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which calls out advertisers on social media that run ads in media such as GB News and the Daily Mail. “I’m not surprised advertisers are staying away.”

However, Frangopoulos says that the company is starting to make inroads with media buying agencies and brands, some of whom it now approaches directly. GB News uses Sky’s TV sales arm to sell its on-air advertising space, the Kiss and Jazz FM owner, Bauer, handles its radio advertising and the Daily Mail’s commercial arm is responsible for digital advertising.

“We did have challenges at launch with advertisers but there has been a market shift,” Frangopoulos says. “Towards the end of last year and into this one there has been a significant shift in the level of discussion we are having both at agency and at client level.

“That has been driven partly because we are now part of the broadcasting landscape in the UK. We have a sizeable audience that holds appeal to some advertisers and is worth a conversation.”

According to Guardian research, GB News attracted almost 170 advertisers or campaigns in the first half of last year, and more than 180 in the second half, including brands such as Camelot, Burger King, Jet2, TalkTalk and Weetabix.

While none of these were big spenders – Sky’s own advertising was among the biggest – it does indicate that the advertiser boycott of GB News is softening.

A GB News camera
GB News reached 2.87 million viewers in December, comfortably ahead of TalkTV. Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty

In December the TV channel reached 2.87 million viewers, comfortably ahead of TalkTV at 2 million, although average daily viewing is only 41 seconds. Sky News achieved a monthly reach of 8.5 million and the market leader, BBC News, clocked in at 11.4 million.

GB News Radio is also growing its audience, with weekly reach up 50% to 415,000 from the second to third quarter last year.

The world of traditional media is a notoriously difficult business to turn a profit, which begs the question of whether GB News can ever grow to a point that it is self-sustaining and no longer needs to turn to its backers for further cash injections.

The occasionally mooted potential merger with, or takeover by, TalkTV would not solve the problem – Sky News has not made a profit in more than three decades on air.

In January 2021, GB News revealed that it had secured £60m to launch into the UK market in what was touted at the time as a three-year pot of funding.

However, last August there was a shakeup among its backers, with the founding investor Discovery selling up, and the existing shareholders Sir Paul Marshall, the Brexiter hedge fund tycoon, and Legatum, the Dubai-based investment company founded by the New Zealand billionaire Christopher Chandler, taking control.

Financial accounts for Discovery’s UK business subsequently revealed that it sold its 25% stake for £8m, a 60% drop on the original £20m it paid, which would suggest the value of GB News has fallen from £80m at launch to £32m.

The latest £60m funding round, in which the co-founders Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider resigned as directors and sold their stakes, could sustain GB News for a number of years if it chose to cut costs dramatically.

Frangopoulos declines to comment on “shareholder or valuation matters” but suggests that GB News is not at this point looking to cut back to a shoestring operation.

“GB News is competing with established, well-funded, big brand media and it is working,” Frangopoulos says. “We are an employer of more than 200 journalists and that is a net positive for British journalism. All companies have a balancing act of investment to drive commercial growth and finding efficiencies.”


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
ITV Studios: is the glitter coming off broadcaster's hit factory?
Star-studded gala to woo advertisers comes amid problems including jittery ad market and slowing growth in production business

Mark Sweney

30, Nov, 2016 @12:18 PM

Article image
UK film industry on a roll as it helps keep economy growing
ONS highlights role of sector as foreign movie and TV studios are attracted to Britain by government tax breaks and weak pound

Mark Sweney

26, Jul, 2017 @6:52 PM

Article image
Brands pull ads from GB News TV channel over content concerns
Ikea, Grolsch and Kopparberg have suspended adverts due to station’s perceived conflict with their values

Jasper Jolly

15, Jun, 2021 @5:12 PM

Article image
How GB News is bringing US-style opinionated TV news to the UK
New channel is keen to reject comparisons with Fox News despite positioning itself as ‘anti-woke’

Jim Waterson

12, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Sky News no longer critical to broadcaster, says chief executive
Jeremy Darroch casts doubt on future of service, which could halt Murdoch takeover of Sky

Mark Sweney

25, Jan, 2018 @2:33 PM

Article image
Channel 4's Bake Off set 'will be product-placement-free'
Integrity of biggest show on British TV is sacrosanct, says source close to Love Productions, as ad spots sell like hot cakes

Mark Sweney

02, Jul, 2017 @2:25 PM

Article image
Losses deepen at GB News as network moves to fend off rival TalkTV
Hiring costs for presenters such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg balloon while advertisers stay wary of right-leaning channel

Mark Sweney

09, Mar, 2023 @3:03 PM

Article image
GB News launch gains more viewers than BBC or Sky news channels
‘Proud to be British’ new channel has backers including US Discovery and a Dubai-based fund

Kevin Rawlinson and Jim Waterson

14, Jun, 2021 @6:13 PM

Article image
ITV warns of ad slump but is on track with new streaming brand launch
Broadcaster hopes ITVX will help it achieve £750m in digital ad income annually by 2026

Mark Sweney

11, May, 2022 @10:36 AM

Article image
And they're off … £6.8bn Christmas ad spree gets under way
Walkers calls on Mariah Carey and Argos pulls on heartstrings but ad binge masks overall fall in spending

Sarah Butler

02, Nov, 2019 @8:00 AM