As GB News celebrates its first birthday Press Gazette looks at its ratings versus TalkTV and finds out whether its high-profile teething troubles are behind it.
Earlier this year the station launched a new breakfast show fronted by Eamonn Holmes and a radio station making it the first UK TV news channel to simulcast on DAB+. It has increased its staff to some 200 people, doubled its daily programming to some 14 shows and appointed former Sunday Express editor Mick Booker as editorial director.
Twelve months in, the channel is still struggling to reach a large linear TV audience. But the channel’s CEO, former Sky News Australia chief Angelos Frangopoulos, is confident that its multi-platform audience is growing.
GB News Linear TV ratings
One month into broadcasting, much of the media wrote off GB News as the channel seemed unable to sustain its promising opening night ratings.
GB News launched to a peak audience of 336,000 – more than both BBC News and Sky News – on its opening night and reached 3.7 million people in its first four weeks to 11 July, according to the Broadcasters Audience Research Bureau (Barb). This compared to monthly reach of 12.6m for the BBC News channel and 8.4m for Sky News in the same period.
A month after launch however, some average prime time audiences were a tenth of opening night. Some daytime programmes failed to register any viewers at all on Barb. By December reach ratings for the channel had slumped by more than a third as its four-week rolling reach was down to 2.2 million people by the end of 2021. BBC News meanwhile grew its audience by a quarter to to 15.9m, while Sky News’ viewership was up by 29% to 10.9m.
GB News ratings versus BBC News and Sky News in its first year
The channel’s critics put the slump down to poor production, some high-profile mistakes and a lack of appetite for its opinionated style of news.
Frangopoulos, however, insists that while the channel made some startup errors, the lack of TV audience growth by the end of the year was down to a deliberate decision to regroup in late 2021.
“In Q4 2021 we purposely took our foot off the pedal to regroup for a number of major programming enhancements that came in Q1 this year,” he says. “Those were basically centred around reinventing our breakfast programming, preparing for the launch of GB News Radio and a lot more cohesive focus on our programming in the evening.”
He adds: “In a startup, it’s all about iteration, really learning from where things didn’t work well and not being afraid to experiment. We’ve done lots of things that we’ve tried that didn’t really work,” says Frangopoulos.
Data suggests that in 2022 the channel’s reach and views have started to pick up. Nigel Farage and Dan Wootton, who both present primetime evening shows for the channel, have managed to attract regular audiences for their no-holds barred takes on lockdowns, migrants and Nicola Sturgeon.
GB News daily audience ratings grew in 2022
Frangopoulos says data shows that the channel’s mission of trying to speak to those “not reached” by the Metropolitan media is coming through. The channel’s number one market, he says, is Manchester.
While its radio reach is smaller than competitors, the channel is similarly positive.
GB News radio ratings figures for Q1 2022
In first RAJAR radio listening figures for Q1 2022, after launching in January, GB News Radio reached 239,000 listeners per week. This eclipses, says GB News, Talkradio’s launch.
“Radio is very important because what we want to do is make GB News something that is accessible on multiple platforms. It’s the idea that you can consume GB News on TV at breakfast for example and then jump in the car and continue listening,” he says.
While the data suggests that the channel is starting to attract bigger audiences, it still remains well behind the established media it set out to challenge.
According to Barb, the GB News TV channel reached 2.2 million viewers in April, compared to 12.6 million for BBC News and 9.1 million for Sky News. Average daily minutes were also much lower at just 32 seconds per day for GB News, compared to 2 minutes 36 per viewer for BBC News and 1 minute 41 for Sky News.
But Frangopoulos says the channel is a serious contender.
“Our aim quite frankly is to be one of the leading news channels in the UK. It just takes time. Ultimately we do see ourselves not just as a contender but a serious player in that market. Sky News is more than 30 years old and we’re just 12 months old ,” he says.
GB News ratings versus Talk TV
While GB News has not yet managed to seriously challenge mainstream news channels on TV, it has fared much better against rival opinion offering, Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV.
While Piers Morgan secured a larger average audience for his opening night TalkTV show than Andrew Neil did for his GB News debut last summer, GB News has since then consistently attracted a larger average primetime audience than the News UK contender. GB News has also on occasion even beaten Sky News in the highly prized 7-11pm slot.
Asked if there's room for both TalkTV and GB News in the UK broadcast landscape, Frangopoulos says: "Talk TV is very different to GB News.
"GB News is a purely British product. It's made for the UK and not compromised by having to make content for other parts of the world. GB News will run its own race, TalkTV will do its own thing, Sky News will do its thing and so will the BBC. And that's actually a really healthy thing for the British media landscape."
He adds: "We welcome the launch of TalkTV. We welcome plurality in the media landscape. The launch of TalkTV is a great compliment for the work done by the team of GB News because up until GB News launched there hadn't been a new news channel for decades in the UK. Now suddenly, there are a total of four."
Like GB News, Talk TV’s programming is simulcast on a sister radio station (Talkradio) and packaged for Youtube and social media.
After taking to Twitter to rave about his opening night figures, Morgan has since downplayed the importance of these ratings, saying that "linear TV is increasingly irrelevant to the total eyeball potential for a global show like this".
Is that a view that GB News takes on its own audience?
As head of digital and presenter Rebecca Hutson told Press Gazette in July last year, GB News maintains that it is really a "digital media business that has a TV channel attached."
"We know that traditional linear consumption has really changed. People don't sit at home for three hours and watch a show. Instead they want to snack on the best bits for them on the platforms that they're already using," said Hutson. "That's why we publish natively across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and we tailor the content specifically for the platform that it's on so we're pretty agnostic in terms of how the content looks and feels across the different destinations that we have and the website."
The data suggests that the channel, which claims to have had five billion impressions across web and social since launch, has reason to be bullish about its digital reach. At the start of February it had 2.9 billion impressions according to its own figures.
Social media audience figures
It is on video platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and TikTok that the channel's presence has grown fastest.
On YouTube GB News has more followers (474,000) than LBC (410,000) and News UK brands Talk TV (303,000) and Times Radio (88,700). On TikTok the channel has surpassed Channel 4 News (117,000 followers) but remains behind Sky News (1.6m) and ITV News (681,000).
The larger following seems to be translating into bigger engagement too.
Data from social media analytics site Social Blade shows that on YouTube GB News racked up ten times the video views of TalkTV in the week starting 30 May (6,300,921 vs 615,854) and almost five times as many as LBC (1,360,716). A separate YouTube page for Piers Morgan Uncensored was launched in April. News UK told Press Gazette that the page has 67,000 subscribers and has had over 10 million views in the last 90 days.
According to Hutson, GB News additionally has some 147.5 million video views on Twitter each month and 115 million on Facebook.
Indeed, while Ofcom rules mean that GB News has to reflect a balance of views across its TV programming, there is no such requirement of balance on social media. Figures from NewsWhip reveal that some of the channel’s more "anti-woke" themes have done well on social networks. According to the social analytics firm many of the channel's most engaged-with posts have concerned vaccines, lockdowns and trans issues.
Frangopoulos maintains that success on social is not about provoking social media rage, pointing to the positive engagement on the channel's Jubilee coverage last week.
"We are about having compelling debate. We're not about pressing buttons and that is a very important thing to keep in mind," he says.
But despite its social growth, the channel has yet to reach profitability.
Revenue and business plan
For one thing monetising a digital audience is notoriously tricky. The channel is making inroads here although Frangopoulos admits that the level of digital revenue is still "not in keeping with where our business plan is at the moment".
"We are performing so well on some of the social platforms and distribution platforms. The challenge for us now is monetising that engagement on our owned and operated platforms," he says. The channel is hoping that increasing its distribution channels will help. GB News recently launched on Samsung and video streaming platform Roku.
Commercial success for the channel will however depend, says Frangopoulos, on making money from linear TV and radio - the broadcaster's core revenue stream. Although the channel says it has enough investment to sustain it for the meantime, an advertising boycott is hurting the company's bottom line.
"The boycott by agencies and some clients to advertise on GB News is a real problem," he says. "It has a real impact on our commercial performance.