Back in 2006, YouGov’s co-founder Stephan Shakespeare and ConservativeHome founder Tim Montgomerie (now of this parish) conceived of an idea to start a political TV channel on the internet, with a decidedly right of centre tinge. This was in the days before smart phones and people routinely watching live or pre-recorded video on their laptops. YouTube was in its infancy. They approached me to be their lead presenter on the channel, with Donal Blaney joining the team as well. Stephan had bought a Georgian town house in Doughty Street, in Bloomsbury, from where we intended to broadcast live each evening. While we were broadcasting, the whole house was being renovated. It was a building site. Looking back, the whole enterprise was ten years ahead of its time, but it only lasted a year.
Tim’s view was that we should be concentrating on short video clips rather than trying to emulate linear TV. I disagreed and my view prevailed, but in retrospect he was right and I was wrong.
We launched before we were ready. Most of the channel’s presenters had little experience of presenting, let alone reading an autocue. Our set was a disaster and looked like a middle eastern bordello. The sound was dodgy and the lighting was awful. As Theresa May might say: “Remind you of anyone?”
It’s this experience which leads me to have some sympathy for the team which has set up GB News from nothing in a matter of months. Mistakes, they’ve made more than a few. Indeed, too many to mention. However, most of the early technical teething difficulties ought to be rectified very quickly. At 18 Doughty Street we made a decision after the first night to ditch the set which had been built, and within a week or two we had something totally different and easy on the eye.
The fact is, with the technical problems and the apparent advertiser boycott, you could argue that GB News might be very happy with the level of coverage they have had. The haters were always going to hate, and because of its overt intention on editorial direction, did anyone ever think that anyone in the liberal media was ever going to be anything less than condemnatory? Of course not.
In some ways GB News is the wrong name. It’s not actually a news channel, given it doesn’t have news bulletins at the top of the hour, or indeed anywhere else. Its entire programming output is based on commentary and opinion. And why GB News, why not UK News? What has Northern Ireland done to deserve being ignored?!
Forget the technical difficulties, the launch evening on Sunday was a missed opportunity. Instead of Andrew Neil having an hour long love-in with his fellow presenters, why not start with a bang? With a big newsmaking interview? That’s what Andrew Neil is known for. And then to follow it with a manic Dan Wootton launching into a slightly bizarre anti-lockdown monologue, well, I can’t think anyone can have thought this was a good idea with the benefit of hindsight.
To judge any media launch on the evidence of its first three days is something any responsible media reviewer should avoid doing. I wish any new media start-up well. Competition and variety ought to be the very spices of life. Not that you’d know it from the liberal left, who will lose no opportunity to try to shut it down.
Andrew Neil is someone I have the highest regard for, and he will make it his business to ensure that the enterprise succeeds. His parameters for success may well be very different from the rest of the media’s, though.