Andrew Neil has compared GB News to a “UKIP tribute band” and said the Discovery-backed news channel, which he split from acrimoniously over the summer, may “fall into irrelevance and obscurity” if it doesn’t sort production values and ratings.
Neil said he doesn’t want the news channel to be the “full stop on my career” as he hinted at a return to TV news but denied he will take a presenting role on Rupert Murdoch’s forthcoming Talk TV, which is set to feature Piers Morgan as lead host.
Speaking candidly at Freeview’s Outside the Box event on the news channel he fronted and helped found earlier this year, Neil said the “shambles of the launch” will haunt GB News for months, having lost many of its founding editors and presenters swiftly.
If the channel fails to overcome its production and ratings’ troubles, it could “fall into irrelevance and obscurity,” he said.
Neil described GB News as a “UKIP tribute band” that is now dominated by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and said his “fundamental mistake was to get into bed with people who said they shared my vision but didn’t,” people who wanted to take GB News in a Fox News-style direction.
Neil’s preference was for GB News to occupy the centre/centre-right space, he added, as he railed against the “metropolitan big city approach” of the other major UK news channels such as BBC News and Sky News.
His other mistake was “putting my name and face on the tin” but “failing to demand more executive power.”
“None of the board knew anything about TV,” he explained. “They had an ideological view of what they should be doing but didn’t know how to go about it. What made it stressful and difficult for me was it was my brand but the tech it was investing in, the people, the studio, weren’t mine. That was a stupid mistake on my part.”
“Fit for purpose”
Turning to the general state of UK broadcasting, Neil said Public Service Broadcasters the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are no longer “fit for purpose” in the modern streaming age due to “structural and institutional” issues.
He pointed to the monstrous budgets of streamers Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon taking advantage of the UK’s talent base, which he said makes Britain a “creative superpower” but is leaving the traditional networks behind.
“The danger we have in broadcasting is that it becomes like Wimbledon: we provide the venue but don’t provide the players,” he warned.
“This is now an aggregation game. Even Rupert Murdoch thought he was too small to survive in the streaming age and Disney bought most of his TV functions.”
ITV may be in the running to buy Channel 4 if the latter is privatized but Neil dismissed the power a newly-combined ITV/C4 would have against the streamers.
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