TalkTV was the “hokey-cokey” of TV channel launches. It was going to launch, then it wasn’t. Then it was going to be digital-only, then the senior executive hired to oversee it departed.
When News UK decided that it was going to be a channel after all, executives hired Piers Morgan for a rumoured eight-figure deal (yes, tens of millions). TalkTV was finally launched with a blaze of expensive publicity and advertising that largely centred around Morgan’s face. Love him or hate him, the adverts promised, you won’t be able to ignore him.
But less than a fortnight after his show debuted, it looks like we really, really can. Despite a dramatic edit that appeared to show Donald Trump storming off the set of his launch-day interview, and a string of controversy-baiting guests, Morgan is neither bringing in ratings nor going viral online.
As the biggest draw for the fledgling channel – whose line-up is otherwise filled by cannibalising the previously smooth-running TalkRadio set-up – Morgan’s low viewership bodes ill for the launch. The UK cable TV news market is hardly a saturated one, and this is the second right-leaning anti-woke launch in a year.
TalkTV launched after its relatively niche target audience had already been offered GB News. TalkTV boasts a much higher budget, but that is a double-edged sword: it is spending even faster than its rival, which means it needs a much larger audience to break through.
Averaging just 62,000 viewers a night for its peak-time big-budget show, and attracting a total of zero viewers at quieter times, it is nowhere near where it needs to be to justify its own existence.
These might just be teething troubles, and Morgan himself is trying to act like he doesn’t care about viewing figures (despite previously bragging about his Good Morning Britain breakfast show ratings and the relatively high viewership of his opening-night TalkTV show). If the channel was constantly going viral and making headlines, there might be reason to believe better ratings would eventually follow.
But perhaps Morgan wasn’t as safe a bet as an attention grabber – though he’s certainly an attention seeker – as TalkTV imagined. He has had his headline-generating moments, but he’s had his failures too, such as struggling to prop up ratings at CNN. And while Morgan frequently helped GMB trend on Twitter, its ratings were on average much lower than the staid BBC breakfast show, and the programme has not notably suffered in his absence.
The world is busy enough, hectic enough and outraged enough already. Anyone in search of a new front in the culture war need look no further than whatever the Culture Secretary’s latest announcement is, while the government can just as easily prompt the outrage of the day.
Public life has, effectively, been rebuilt in Morgan’s image – a stream of loud, brash, controversial takes designed to steal our attention rather than achieving any particular result. Privatise Channel 4! Send refugees to Rwanda! Let them eat Tesco value cake!
It might be Piers Morgan’s world now, with the rest of us left to endure it, but has the sound and fury crowded out the man himself?
[See also: “We’re going to disrupt”: A year inside GB News]