Why TalkTV will get people talking – and what it means for PR

Jack Baine, Head of Broadcast at Good Broadcast shares his opinion with PR Week on how PRs should embrace the new launch of TalkTV and capitalise on the new opportunities it creates for brands.

Read the full PR Week article below.

The clue is in the name. TalkTV is a televised offshoot of TalkRADIO, which has been broadcasting since 1995, and its mission is to get people talking.

It was already succeeding before its first show began, thanks, in large part, to the Rupert Murdoch-media apparatus it already has installed around it (Murdoch bought TalkRADIO in 2016).

To get people chatting, TalkTV has hired celebrities to front its shows who create controversy. Some go looking for it, to others it comes naturally. Either way, it ensures publicity, good or bad.

Two divisive figures, Piers Morgan and Donald Trump, helped launch the channel last night. Famous faces including Jeremy Kyle and Sharon Osborne will grace the its initial output. They join others in an ensemble cast drawn together for their talent as walking talking points.

Morgan has taken headline billing. Reviled and enjoyed in varying measures, he is a big signing for the nascent channel. You don’t have to warm to him to know he has a command of how the mechanics of PR and the media grind together to power the engine of publicity.

His PR is not flawless, but he won over plenty of one-time haters during the pandemic by refusing to kowtow to amateurish attempts by MPs to swerve crucial questions over the impact of COVID-19 – a daily performance that had viewers cheering him on through a mouthful of Frosties. Some of his savagings were brutal. In the process he propelled GMB to the number one breakfast TV show in the UK (the day before he walked off the show in a huff after a row with the weatherman over Meghan Markle).

So, what to expect from TalkTV? If the launch of its closest competition, GBNews, is anything to go by, the big talking points will not be about its content, but the programming and production. GBNews had a big hitter of its own in Andrew Neil, last seen wandering away shaking his head.

TalkTV launched last night and Murdoch, 91, who is probably enjoying one last roll of the media dice, has demonstrably not allowed money to stand in the way of the channel’s image. The opening shows had solid production values – compared to GBNews it looked lavish.

Certainly Murdoch’s media empire has been trailing the launch with front-page splashes a PR would kill for. The front page of The Sun this week carried ‘news’ of Trump’s thoughts on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex directly lifted from the launch interview before it aired, like an internal news cycle going in reverse.

The interview last night did generate some talking points, but Trump vs Morgan is not Frost vs Nixon. The good news for PRs invested in newsjacking is that it doesn’t matter. The channel is not about news, but divisive opinion from big names recycled into news. That’s good news for PR.

“With the advent of TalkTV, and other more ‘opinion-led’ news outlets in recent years, the broadcast media landscape is changing, and it needs to be embraced, not dismissed or ignored because it feels different,” says Jack Baine, head of broadcast at Good Broadcast (part of Good Relations), who spent 21 years at the BBC.

“TalkTV, and the like, are bound to divide opinion among viewers. Some will love the outspoken nature of it all, others will loathe it, but PRs should be thinking of ‘opportunity’.

The broadcast media landscape is changing, and it needs to be embraced, not dismissed or ignored because it feels different

“If a story or campaign is thought about carefully, and it has the right angle for the right show and the right presenter, then it can fly.

“On TV and radio, PR is all about creating stimulating debate with punchy, controversial or even fun talking points, so why not lean into these new outlets?”

On last night’s showing Morgan fans can expect GMB-style rants about wokery, cancel culture and anything else that inflames the passions of this self-styled ‘frustrated liberal’, although without the balance provided by former breakfast show co-host Susanna Reid, whose inherent journalistic sense of balance reined in his wilder frequent excesses.

Some might suggest TalkTV missed out by not signing Reid to reunite the GMB team, which had alchemic chemistry, but perhaps producers feared that might spoil the fun – and the potential for headlines (including those written by outlets outside the Murdoch empire). Certainly the name of the show – Piers Morgan Uncensored – suggests restraint is not on the agenda.

Again, that’s good news for PR. When Morgan wasn’t getting worked up by MPs, minor royals or opinionated students, he memorably took umbrage over Greggs’ launch of a vegan sausage roll. His perplexed annoyance propelled the news everywhere, contributing to spectacular publicity – and sales – for such a humble product.

TalkTV may not enrich the UK’s cultural landscape. Instead we may discover a crop of self-publicists arguing about Katie Price. Murdoch is rumoured to be keen on adding Alan Sugar and Jeremy Clarkson to his stable of presenters, neither of whom has a reputation for keeping their opinions to themselves.

Whatever happens – and bigger media launches than this have flopped – for now it’s likely to afford opportunities for PR to take advantage of.