One America News Network, or OAN, suffered a heavy blow with DirecTV’s recent decision to drop the right-wing news outlet from its offerings in what the satcaster called a purely business decision.
In response, anchor Dan Ball urged viewers to dig up “dirt” on AT&T’s board Chairman William Kennard, a former Clinton Administration FCC chair and an ambassador under Obama. Ball wanted proof that Kennard, who is Black, was “saying racial slurs against white people” or committing other transgressions like cheating on taxes or his spouse.
“Whatever it may be. Find it for me. Bring it, and we will air it,” Ball said, in an initiative that seems unlikely to encourage DirecTV to reconsider its plans.
Separately, OAN CEO Robert Herring called for viewers to pressure executives at competing pay-TV outlets including Dish Network and Charter Communications to pick up the service. That too seems unlikely to bear significant fruit. After all, if OAN had enough viewers to force a pickup on other major pay-TV providers, DirecTV never would have dropped it.
On the other hand, you can’t blame Ball and Herring for trying.
Ad income and carriage fees from DirecTV comprise a substantial chunk of the network’s revenues. Back in 2020, a company attorney said in court proceedings that without DirecTV’s largesse, the network might have to close down.
But DirecTV has its own problems. The company’s subscriber base has been in free fall for years, and AT&T’s stewardship after a 2015 acquisition did nothing to help. The subscriber decline only accelerated as the streaming wars heated up, and more customers turned to streaming and broadband for their entertainment needs.
Last August, the wireless carrier finished spinning out DirecTV into a separate company, 30% owned by private equity firm TPG Capital. It’s worth noting the spinoff valued the standalone DirecTV at less than a third of AT&T’s original purchase price of $48.5 billion.
And as is the case with DirecTV’s traditional terrestrial competitors, it needs to a.) make money as a stand-alone company, b.) stop hemorrhaging customers, and c.) cut costs. Thus, the need to trim low-viewership channels such as OAN.
So, Herring will go hunting for slots on pay-TV set-top boxes, at the exact moment those companies are putting their bundles on a starvation diet, and their lesser offerings on an iceberg headed out to sea.
What OAN didn’t do, in a slightly puzzling throwback to pay-TV’s halcyon days a decade ago, was suggest that followers hop on its streaming app instead. In this regard, again, OAN is representative of the challenges facing many lesser networks still living off their cable honey pot.
Founded in 2013, the San Diego-based OAN is one of the oldest of what’s become a veritable flock of online and cable news outlets positioning themselves as more conservative than kingpin Fox News, especially in the post-Trump era.
The competitors include conservative media and social-media offerings such as Newsmax, Blaze Network, America’s Voice, Epoch Times, Washington Examiner, The Daily Wire, Red State, the Drudge Report, Gettr, and Gab.
Highly profitable long-time ratings winner Fox News is permanently etched onto the cable bundle, as long as there is a cable bundle. And it has its own lifestyle and news streaming service, Fox Nation, though the company has declined to specify viewership, estimated by one analyst at around 1 million subscribers.
This might be a good time to point out that the already substantial conservative news scrum also was supposed to include a social-media service from Digital World Acquisition Corp.
The 13-month-old “blank-check" company merged last fall with Donald Trump’s newly formed media and technology unit, promising to roll out a social-media service in beta by December, with a full-fledged offering soon after. Soon to come was a separate streaming news service and other possible media units.
DWAC’s most tangible achievement so far has been this month’s resignation by U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, formerly the founder of a radar-detector company, to become its CEO.
Since then, it’s been a bit bumpy. Like many other SPACs caught up in the market turmoil of the past two weeks, DWAC has seen its formerly high-flying stock plummet, from a peak of $175 to close Wednesday’s market at $68.75, off 61%.
Still, if I’m betting on which conservative news operation gets a spot on the shrinking dial at DirecTV, Dish or Charter Spectrum, I’d put my money on the Trump horse, should it ever leave the gate.
All of which suggests that OAN — which already distributes some of its content on streaming places like Roku and conservative media aggregation platform KlowdTV — needs to make the transition to a streaming alternative sooner than later. That will mean, as for other endangered cable-first networks, a painful transition. Given OAN’s ideological tilt, the term “right-sizing” has a whole new heft.
The good news is that connected TV apps are all the rage, and attracting advertisers at a quickening pace. You don’t have to worry much about finding dirt about the chairman of your erstwhile distribution partner. And best of all, creating opinions about the news isn’t a particularly expensive business to run. Just look at me.
David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline (opens in new tab), Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
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