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Trump talk with Nigel Farage plumped up ratings for GB News

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Nigel Farage’s interview with Donald Trump on Wednesday substantially boosted the audience figures for GB News, the rightwing news channel that is increasingly reliant on fans of the former Ukip leader to bring in viewers.

Approximately 190,000 people tuned in during the evening to watch the former US president repeat baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and to criticise the Duchess of Sussex. The audience was double the number normally watching Farage’s show at that time.

Although the total audience for the Trump interview remained tiny – it was watched by just 1.3% of British television viewers during the hour the programme was on air – it gave GB News the symbolic victory of overtaking Sky News and the BBC News channel during the time slot.

Andrew Neil, the former GB News chairman, who had a very public exit from the station earlier this year, recently bemoaned the “Fox News direction” of the channel and dismissively said it now resembled a “Ukip tribute band”.

Yet GB News viewers seem to be most enthusiastically responding to the Ukip elements of the channel’s output. Viewing figures produced by the ratings agency Barb show that Farage’s weekday show is consistently more popular than almost any other programme on GB News and is almost single-handedly helping to revive the channel’s audience figures following a disastrous launch.

While Sky News and the BBC News channel have broadly consistent viewing figures throughout the day, the audience for GB News rapidly rises ahead of Farage’s 7pm weekday programmes before falling again once his show goes off air.

At one point on Wednesday afternoon, GB News was being watched by just 1,000 viewers, only for it to surge in time for Farage’s sit-down interview with Trump at the Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida.

Farage originally missed out on having his own dedicated slot on GB News, instead being given a role as a guest on a Sunday morning show that was not even announced when the channel launched. Yet within a few weeks he agreed to step in to a host a weekday evening programme, at a moment when GB News was in disarray.

At this point, Neil had walked away after just eight programmes, the channel was facing a viewer boycott after a presenter took the knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, GB News’ technical system barely functioned, the set was too dark to illuminate some presenters, and key behind-the-scenes staff had either been fired or were quitting.

The nadir came when some programmes recorded zero viewing figures – meaning that as far as advertisers were concerned, no one was watching.

Many of the technical issues have now been fixed, and although GB News remains substantially below the audience levels that external analysts suggest are required for it to make a profit, it has continued to hire staff and expand. The channel’s backers also remain committed to the project, while the Sunday Express editor, Michael Booker, has been recruited as GB News editorial director with a plan to hire more staff.

However, looming on the horizon is the launch of Rupert Murdoch’s rival channel, talkTV, which is currently in the middle of its own hiring spree. It will go up against GB News with an evening show fronted by Piers Morgan, and will have access to substantially deeper financial reserves plus the ability to promote its material across other Murdoch-owned outlets.

GB News’ other challenge could be ensuring that Farage does not give up his presenting slot to return to full-time politics – an idea he floated last month in the Telegraph after saying he had been approached by political donors opposed to people crossing the English Channel on boats to claim asylum in the UK.

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