Nov 1 2003

Why Progressive TV Is DOA

Editor's Note

It didn’t mean to, but the trade publication Ad Age (10/13/03) recently explained why there’s no progressive counterpart to conservative media outlets like Fox News Channel. The story was reporting on why Democrat Al Gore, who had earlier been trying to start a liberal cable news network, was now aiming to create a channel aimed at a “more aware, younger, hipper audience.”

Ad Age quotes an “insider” advising Gore: “Liberal TV is dead on arrival…. You just can’t do it.” The switch to a channel targeting youth was made, according to the article “to make it more enticing to advertisers who were wary of plunking down ads on a network aligned with a particular political party.”

But there’s fear that even with the new approach, Gore’s “Democratic Party affiliation” will still scare off advertisers. “If there is any transparency to Gore, then it will be identified as a partisan operation, which will alienate advertisers,” a cable industry executive told Ad Age.

Of course, it’s not really partisanship in itself that advertisers object to. After all, Fox News Channel is headed by Republican operative Roger Ailes, and it has plenty of advertising. Ad Age actually quotes a Fox News ad executive, explaining why Ailes’ network succeeds while Gore’s will fail: “The problem with being associated as liberal is that they wouldn’t be going in a direction that advertisers are really interested in.”

And that’s it in a nutshell: Even the watered-down liberalism represented by someone like Al Gore is likely to sometimes criticize corporate power, and that’s something that corporate advertisers are never going to be eager to underwrite.

The Fox executive did seem to think he may have admitted too much, for he hastened to add: “We don’t get business for being conservative, we get business because the ratings are good and we believe that we’re fair.” After thus bowing to Fox‘s official “fair and balanced” theology, he gets back to the real point: “If you go out and say that you are a liberal network, you are cutting your potential audience, and certainly your potential advertising pool, right off the bat.” Of course, without the latter, you never get a chance at the former.