David Bohrman, a TV news veteran and former president of Current TV, is fronting the Political Voices Network, a new left-leaning OTT service ramping up to stream coverage of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential race.
The Political Voices Network aims to be for the Left what Fox News and upstarts like NewsMax and One America News have been for the Right, drawing off the same liberal concerns that have propelled MSNBC’s ratings during the President Donald Trump Era.
Bohrman and his team are in the process of raising between $3 million and $5 million to launch the network as an OTT service available on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and on mobile devices via Android and iOS. In the coming months, it will make its stream available via the company’s website, leftisright.com, along with other platforms. While plans call for a mix of sponsorships and on-air advertising, the economic model will also include $10-a-pop public-broadcasting-style memberships, which will include discounts on live events and custom content.
The on-air talent roster will include Stephanie Miller, a radio veteran who has also hosted shows on CNBC and Oxygen, and Bill Press, a former California Democratic Party head who has been a commentator and host for CNN and MSNBC.
Before leading Current from 2011 to 2013, Bohrman had stints at ABC News, NBC News and CNN. Among his news creations are the “magic wall” first used by CNN’s John King and the YouTube Debates, which debuted during the 2008 presidential campaign. He also worked at pioneering video streaming website Pseudo, which beamed the 2000 conventions to online viewers during the dial-up days.
During his news travels, Bohrman has noted the recent emergence of a handful of left-of-center media entities, including streaming video brand the Young Turks and podcast upstart Pod Save America. But he believes in the organizing power of a network, even in a media landscape increasingly shaped by YouTube and social media. “The problem is, these guys exist on little islands,” he told Deadline in an interview. “What’s needed is a brand, an aggregating brand. There are people who take a look at Washington, on both sides of the aisle, and they say, ‘I need to do something, I want to do something. What can I do or where can I go?’ Right now, for those inclined to the left of center, there’s no real place for them to go.”
Beyond Bohrman, the Political Voices Network team includes CFO Ron Hartenbaum, who has had exec roles at Westwood One and ABC; chief revenue officer Scott Calka, a veteran of DirecTV and Fox Sports; executive VP of production Terry Baker, a former exec at Current TV, CNN and ABC News; and chief technology officer Jason Odell, who was CTO at Current, helped launch Vice News on HBO and handled engineering and studio operations at YouTube Space in Los Angeles.
Rob Rueckert, managing director at Sorenson Capital, is serving as an adviser.
Beyond the video content, which will be delivered both live and on-demand, the plan is to also convene a conversation for the left across platforms, with an active online presence and a community sensibility. Timing will be everything, with streaming beginning this year during a closely watched midterm elections and then a 2020 race that has broad ramifications for statehouses and local politics, not just the White House.
“We are entering a three-year election window that will be unlike anything else we’ve seen,” Bohrman said. “We want to help people find a spot where they can go.”
Hartenbaum said that unlike some left-leaning media brands, which in 2016 aligned with either the Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton factions within the Democratic Party, “We want to be a larger tent and present all of these different flavors of what it means to be liberal or progressive.”
Bohrman put a finer point on it. “The left is a mess,” he said. “They’ve got to figure themselves out too. That’s why I think this has a really important role.” Should the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018, for example, it’s an open question whether former speaker Nancy Pelosi will be given the gavel again, and those kinds of deliberations would be a draw for viewers.
Given that recent estimates have put the number of stand-alone OTT services at more than 200 and growing, with nearly 90% of them asking for viewers’ subscription dollars, Bohrman recognizes Political Voices Network has its work cut out for it. One cautionary tale, he acknowledges, is Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, which launched in 2011 after Beck left Fox News. Initially conceived of as a direct-to-consumer online and OTT play, Bohrman said Beck wound up craving traditional cable and satellite distribution. Last summer, he announced deep staff cuts.
Those backing Political Voices Network will aim to stay lower to the ground and grow organically.
“That shiny ball of cable and satellite,” Bohrman said, “can be a tremendous distraction. We’re not going to be following any shiny balls.”