I may find Glenn Beck’s schtick repellent, based as it is on demonization of Beck’s perceived enemies and conspiracy theories. But six months after his Glenn Beck TV launched, it’s relatively clear that Beck’s efforts to build a stand-alone television channel have been successful: 300,000 people are paying either $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year for access to the network, which they can access on their computers, iPads and iPhones, and on their televisions through streaming players like Roku. Between subscriptions and advertising, GBTV is going to make $40 million in its first year.
It would be fascinating to know how many of these subscribers are signing up only so they can get access to content that stars Beck. Obviously, he’s the big draw for the network, but he isn’t alone—GBTV offers documentaries, a survivalist reality show, news analysis, even something called “Liberty Treehouse,” which is described as “a destination for the after school crowd that explores the whys and wherefores of the day’s news through the prism of the next generation.” In other words, it’s presenting itself as a fairly complete alternative for the small but monetizable audience—about 13 percent of those who tuned in to see Beck on Fox when he was broadcasting there—who want all of their programming through Beck’s worldview.
And I think that’ll probably be the model for stand-alone, web-based channels that get off the ground in the future. As much as folks like the idea of saving imperiled but deeply beloved shows like Community through Kickstarter-like campaigns or a subscription model, I actually wonder if a plan like that would be more likely to succeed if you packaged a show you were trying to save with some other programming. I’d pay for a standalone network that included, I don’t know, Community, The Guild, Husbands, and a couple of other shows, web-based or otherwise. Networks like Beck’s will be part of a move away from bundled cable as we know it now. But whatever we get to in the end, whether it’s a choose-your-own package kind of deal or the ability to pick from curated blocks of programming, I don’t think we’ll devolve as far as buying a single show at a time.