Glenn Beck Talks Digital Media Revolution, Capitalism
NEW YORK - Former Fox News host Glenn Beck, who has focused on building digital media offers, said here Tuesday that his emerging multimedia empire may be several years ahead of its time, but will prove that it is on the right track.
The host of The Glenn Beck Program and founder of live streaming network GBTV, which charges a subscription fee of $9.95 a month, spoke at Ad Age's ME Conference: Media Evolved in Manhattan in a keynote interview conducted by Betsy Morgan, president of Beck's companion news site The Blaze.
GBTV had 230,000 paying subs when it launched, Morgan highlighted, saying that the Mercury Digital Network, which also includes the Blaze, GlennBeck.com and e-commerce site Markdown, overall gets more than 50 percent of its revenue from digital businesses.
"I don't consider [ourselves] a digital company," Beck told the conference though. "I consider ourselves more a story telling company and a content company. The way we deliver it is secondary."
But he emphasized that focusing on traditional media delivery would have kept him from helping pioneer new models. "We are on the verge of revolution" that is as profound as the Industrial Revolution was, but will happen much faster, Beck said. "We'll find out soon whether we're too early or not."
His estimate was that his focus on a new type of media empire may be three to five years ahead of its time. But following a tipping point in the media industry, "delivery as you want it" will become the standard, he predicted. The revolution that is in the works "is all about the individual," he added. "It is so close to the American Revolution. It's about you."
He told his audience that as a result, in the future, no media executive would get to tell consumers which show is on or off. "The days of 500 sat channels [are] over," Beck said. "You have to know exactly who you are" and who your audience is. After all, people these days look for myriad opinions on different sites where they know what to expect.
In that context, Beck also said that he doesn't know anybody under the age of 30 who watches TV, while many members of the generation age 50-plus are not using iPads. Still, Beck emphasized he feels he must provide TV quality in his online offers. Mentioning that the Today show was just over at his studio, and the Today team was impressed, he said: "If you're going to pioneer this, you have to hit the standard - the old gold standard."
That said, he predicted that in the coming years, "television is going to go completely interactive," which will allow for a personalized pace even for complicated news. For example, Beck said he wants to design a system where if he mentions the word "digital," viewers can put their mouse on that word and pull up a dumbed down or "dumbed up" explanation of the word.
Asked if all this continuing personalization he expects will mean that ESPN will be available a la carte in the future, meaning that consumers can choose to get or not get it in a pay TV package, Beck said he doesn't expect that much change "for a while."
Discussing the names of his online businesses, Beck said the Blaze got its name from the biblical burning bush as fire sometimes protects and sometimes destroys - just like the truth. Meanwhile, GBTV may include his initials in its name, but "I didn't want to name that with my name because what we're building is not about me and can't be about me," he said, adding that all others involved in it wanted his name on it. Comparing GBTV to a Netflix of information, he added: "It must be much bigger."
Beck also made a reference to the current debate about the state of capitalism as raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement and others. "We're in an age of capitalism, not socialism," Beck argued. But capitalism has become "dirty" and "full of thieves." That means that capitalism too often has become corruption, he said. Beck also briefly mentioned a new studio that he is building in Texas.
One idea for a feature in the studio is a giant screen that shows what people engaged in real-time social media conversations are interested in, he said. Discussing his policy on ads, Beck said he must either personally use a product or has his team do homework on it to decide if he can endorse it. "I guard my credibility," Beck said. For example, he canceled General Motors ads when the company was bailed out by the government.
Said Beck: "I can't endorse you while railing against big government bailouts." His advice to marketers is to not discriminate between the political left and right or other distinctions. "Respect the end user[s] even if you don't agree with them," he said.
The Hollywood Reporter earlier in the day had exclusively reported that GBTV was partnering with Howard Gordon's Icebox for an animated series.