If you were launching a new TV news channel, what would be your top priorities?
For Kate McCann and Tom Newton Dunn, it is about staying the course, building trust, freshening-up the format and ensuring you’re everywhere your audience is.
The pair of journalists are part of the editorial line-up for TalkTV, respectively the Political Editor and the host of flagship evening news show The News Desk. Four weeks after its launch in April 2022, they sat down at Advertising Week Europe to discuss progress and next steps with event director Rebecca Eaves. Here are the takeaways...
Evolution, not revolution
TalkTV launched in April, but Newton Dunn says the brand will continue to evolve and expand.
“Some people choose to launch with a fully-formed product, but we know that things will develop and build,” he said.
“At the moment, we’re simulcasting a visualised TalkRadio on TV, with three hours of primetime made-for-TV content. All the content also broadcasts on TalkRadio, Talk.TV, YouTube, social and streaming platforms. We will continue to launch more made-for-TV shows, and distribute them widely.
“The company has a lot of experience in creating world-class news content, but it takes time to build a brand and an audience. TalkTV is evolutionary and it’s developing.”
The news, analysed
Newton Dunn and McCann said it is important to combine news reporting with contextual analysis.
“You go and watch a news programme for news and Newsnight for analysis – we are doing both,” said McCann, who was previously Sky News political correspondent. “The analysis is key to get to the depth of the piece.”
Newton Dunn, a former The Sun political editor who also became Times Radio’s Chief Political Commentator, echoed that view: “We think there’s a gap in the market for a combination of news reporting and analysis, a way of presenting stories that tells you why they’re important and lets you make your mind up.”
"My understanding is talks have been taking place on a contingency plan... essentially disapplying elements of the protocol, not scrapping it entirely."
— First Edition (@FirstEdition) May 11, 2022
A new daily rhythm
By launching in 2022, the pair said they can shape their coverage for the profound shifts in audience media consumption.
Newton Dunn said The News Desk won’t aim to repeat the basic breaking-news formula: “It’s similar to a newspaper, in the sense we are on air at 7pm and we need to tell our viewers the story of the day, but we need to move it on a bit.
“Audiences have already read the news on their phones or laptops during the day, so you have to move it on. We do have breaking news but the key is not just to report it, we need to tell people why it matters.”
Ripping it up
Both Newton Dunn and McCann gave the impression of creatively defining a fresh formula on a blank canvas. And tapping into the world-class journalism from across News UK’s portfolio, including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and talkSPORT.
“We try to think about how people want to receive news,” McCann said. “We have a huge amount of talent in the building and that gives us the opportunity to tear things up and do it differently.”
Newton Dunn was also keen to redefine the rulebook: “TV news has got a bit formulaic, it's not changed much in the last 40 years with the standard format of ‘a package then a two-way, a package then a two-way’. That doesn’t give the stories much room to breathe.
“We don’t want to get stuck in a rut, it’s about ripping it up every day to start afresh and do something different.”
Both journalists stressed that TalkTV is about more than just linear. The outfit already has a broad on-demand and social footprint.
“One of the insights that informs TalkTV is that viewers want their content when and where they want it,” Newton Dunn said. “There is a large audience who want to consume highlights on social platforms as well as watch on linear TV, or on-the-move via the app, or indeed, listen in via TalkRadio.”
McCann said they will further learn about what works in the new environment: “It’s key to identify how different audiences engage with different platforms, which then allows us to vary our content.
“We’ve been producing a series of explainers around the situation in Russia and Ukraine and they’ve been massive on Facebook in particular – not something that we’d expected, but certainly something we can build on.”
"We're sitting here more than 80 days into the invasion and Ukrainian forces have managed to reach the border, which is quite extraordinary."
— First Edition (@FirstEdition) May 16, 2022
That commitment to multi-media goes beyond editorial concerns. It is also how TalkTV aims to measure its success.
“Our business model is much more than linear,” Newton Dunn said. “When we first started talking about TalkTV, there was a lot of debate about whether we needed a linear presence at all.
“The way people are consuming media – and, in particular news content – is changing, and what we’re doing is reflecting that change.
“Appointment-to-view is becoming less important, so we need to be where and when the viewers are. As a result, we are less bothered by linear figures such as BARB. We are truly platform neutral.
“Linear still plays a part in what we do but I don’t think it’s the long-term driver of growth. You can monetise digitally in lots of ways now, and that’s the future of the business.”
Whichever the platform, the journalists say their mission is to build a following by creating trust.
“It’s about building a strong loyal audience – bringing people in and getting them to trust us,” McCann said.
Newton Dunn explained how he will set about fostering that relationship: “We are not ideological, we are not trying to get people to think in a specific way,” he said.
“There’s a deficit of trust in the news business and we want to establish a programme that encourages trust. The panel on our show is scrupulously balanced every night with representatives from the political left, right and centre.”
Among the faces in The News Desk’s regular news analysis panellists is leader of the Scottish Labour Party Ana Sawar and vice chair of the Conservative Party, Bim Afolami, as well as established broadcasters and commentators like Adam Boulton and Isabel Oakeshott.