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April 27, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:14am

News UK broadcast boss David Rhodes departs as publisher scales back TV ambitions

By Charlotte Tobitt

News UK’s head of broadcasting David Rhodes, who joined the media giant a year ago to lead its push into video, is set to leave as its first streaming show prepares for launch.

Ex-Fox News vice president and CBS News president Rhodes will hand over the reins to Scott Taunton, who currently leads the audio division Wireless and will become chief executive of News UK Broadcasting.

[Read more: Murdoch-owned TV project will be streamed live and on-demand rather than over airwaves]

Rhodes will remain involved with News Corp on its investments in streaming news media, News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks told staff in a memo first reported by The Spectator.

The Sun and Times publisher is continuing with its plans for standalone streaming programmes starting with weeknight entertainment news programme News To Me, which will be hosted by ex-Scottish Sun editor Gordon Smart.

It is also planning to expand its video live-streaming of its radio shows with new streaming partners, making sure these become “compelling viewing”.

Brooks said: “As we create new video shows and live stream visualised radio content, we will be providing the consumer with more choice, building on the brands we already have, attracting new audiences and driving new revenues into the business.”

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The plan to concentrate on streaming instead of launching a dedicated TV news channel, as reported in February, comes after Rhodes’ review of opportunities in the TV market deemed it to be “not commercially viable”. News UK TV was already licensed by Ofcom last year.

Brooks said there was demand for alternative news provision but the “considerable” costs of running a channel meant it would not be worthwhile financially.

News UK instead wants to chase the targeted programmatic advertising spend said to be growing exponentially on connected TV services like Rakuten TV, Now TV and Apple TV.

Brooks said: “There is certainly consumer demand for more news-based programming and News UK has trusted and well-known brands. David’s work has therefore explored the opportunity to provide live and on-demand video to streaming platforms, using our existing brands and our ability to tell stories and break news.

“The talented team we have hired are also exploring new show formats and we have professionalised our in-house video capability, creating the ability to deliver broadcast-quality video output from reimagined studios in The News Building,” referring to News UK’s headquarters at London Bridge.

[Read more: GB news in-depth briefing]

Andrew Neil’s GB News channel, which has frequently been compared to News UK’s project, will be a traditional linear channel aiming to air 6,500 hours of original programming a year via Freeview. Its launch date is currently unclear, having been pushed back from this spring.

Responding to the confirmation that News UK would not be launching a TV channel, ex-Sky News presenter Colin Brazier, who has signed up to anchor a daytime news, interview and debate programme on GB News, tweeted: “It’s just us then.”

Matt Rhodes, head of brand engagement strategy at media agency Engine, told Press Gazette in the autumn that a “mainstream news channel of general interest to a general audience” would “struggle to get the audience figures needed to be of enough interest to advertisers to generate significant revenue”.

For a linear channel’s ad-funded model to work it “needs to attract a more specific audience” that will be “of interest to some, but not all, brands and so can command a significant level of ad revenue”, Rhodes said.

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