Andrew Neil is leaving the BBC to lead a rival news channel backed by the US group Discovery, which aims to bring the talk-radio spirit to UK television viewers “underserved and unheard by their media”.
GB News, a right-leaning station with Mr Neil as its chair and top presenter, plans to launch early in 2021 with a mission to rattle the BBC and upend the norms of British current-affairs broadcasting.
“GB News is the most exciting thing to happen in British television news for more than 20 years,” said Mr Neil, who has been one of the BBC’s leading political presenters and was the founding chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV in 1988.
“We will champion robust, balanced debate and a range of perspectives on the issues that affect everyone in the UK, not just those living in the London area.”
Although GB News is still to raise the $55m-$65m it is seeking to fund the station, the backing of Discovery and the signing of Mr Neil give the project a big boost in the race to launch. As lead investor, Discovery has pledged roughly a quarter of its fundraising target.
Mr Murdoch’s News Corp is also exploring options for a conservative video news service in the UK, led by the former CBS and Fox News executive David Rhodes. But it has yet to reveal its plans, with the branding and distribution strategy still being hotly debated internally.
Both projects see a gap in the UK market for pugnacious, presenter-driven programming that has proved to be lucrative for US cable channels such as MSNBC and Fox News, which earlier this summer became the most-watched US channel in prime time.
GB News will be available to 96 per cent of UK households through Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media. It will be fighting for a slice of UK advertising spending on television, which was in sharp decline even before the pandemic.
While it plans to hire close to 100 journalists and producers, GB News will depart from the format of rolling-news channels such as BBC News and Sky News. By offering a range of political perspectives through the day, it believes it will meet Britain’s impartiality rules for broadcasting, which are stricter than those of the US.
The channel is founded by Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider, two businessmen who made their careers in the telecoms and media industry, often working with John Malone’s Liberty Global telecommunications company. Nicknamed the “cable cowboy”, Mr Malone is Discovery’s biggest shareholder and sits on its board.
Mr Cole, a Liberty board member, has said he founded GB News to challenge the BBC “and other biased incumbent news channels”. “GBN will rock the market,” he said on his LinkedIn page. “Investor response has been excellent.”
The founders see the channel as being different from Fox News, not least because the politics of some of its hyper-charged presenters would have limited appeal in the UK.
But the anti-establishment ethos of the channel could provide a home to rightwing mavericks such as Nigel Farage, particularly in programmes with presenters from both extremes of the political spectrum.
GB News’ management team includes chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos, the former head of Sky News Australia, and John McAndrew, the former executive editor of Sky News, who will oversee news and programming.
The investment is a relatively small bet for Discovery, a US-listed media group which operates dozens of channels in the US, Europe and Asia, including a new channel in Poland. The founders of GB News hope it will establish a national-news model that could be exported to other markets in Europe.