Andrew Neil to chair a new British television news network

26 September 2020

3:00 AM

26 September 2020

3:00 AM

For some time now, there has been talk about a challenger television to rival Sky and the BBC. Now it’s official: GB News will launch early next year – under the chairmanship of Andrew Neil, who will be its flagship presenter. He is leaving the BBC and will join a new team of about a hundred journalists, in what is the most important television launch in Britain for a generation.

GB News is raising between $55 million and $65 million  – and the lead investor is Discovery Inc, which is behind Discovery Channel and Science Channel. It’s stumping up about a quarter of the cash. It looks as the fundraising will be oversubscribed, yielding a pretty big warchest is being built that will be spent on journalists.

The premise of GB News is fairly simple: that the current players – BBC, Sky, ITV – are so similar in tone and format that there’s space for a bit more diversity. For intelligent, discussion-based show coming from a more independent mindset. Not a British answer to Fox News (the analogy often reached for whenever a rival to the BBC is mentioned) but a station that might broadcast good news a bit more often, or would not be so quick to assume that everything that goes wrong is the fault of the government. One that takes a more even-handed approach to culture wars, and doesn’t see coverage of US politics an exercise in exorcism.

Emboldened by his recent success at SpectatorTV, Andrew will be hosting four one-hour shows a week in primetime and will also chair GB News editorial board. His coverage of the coming US elections will be his last BBC gig. It will be advertiser-financed, so freely available: as a Sky channel, on Freeview, Virgin and all digital platforms. The broader idea is to make a television model that’s scalable abroad, with bespoke programming for other markets when it branches beyond the UK. With that kind of money and that kind of staff, it intends to launch as a high-quality 24/7 station from the off.

It’s unlikely to be a Sky-style rolling news channel – this format does well during major news events, it struggles on quieter news days. Besides Andrew, the management team will include Angelos Frangopoulos (ex-Sky Australia) John McAndrew (ex-Sky News) as Director of News and Programming. Whether they will be able to cope with the competition by Spectator TV, of course, is another matter entirely…

PS Andrew says that he was in talks with the BBC over the summer but it “could not quite repair damage done” when his show was cancelled earlier this year. But he said he leaves with no animosity or desire to settle scores. “I look back on my 25 years doing live political programmes for the BBC with affection. And gratitude for brilliant colleagues at Millbank, who always made sure I went into the studio fully briefed and equipped for the fray.  The BBC has issued a statement saying that Andrew “will always be welcome” back.

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