Media executives and financial firms are making a land grab for Fox News viewers and Trump supporters, and a new player just entered the race

  • A host of contenders are vying to grab the Fox News audience, and a new, secret venture has entered the race led by conservative personality John Cardillo, Business Insider has learned. 
  • Cable channel WGN is also going after that audience, expanding its news offering, and there's industry chatter of a potential sale. 
  • Meanwhile, The Blaze sees growth in video and Newsmax and OANN are making the most of viewers' disatisfaction with Fox News.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

There's growing interest in President Trump's audience — and it's not just at Newsmax and OANN.

A host of conservative leaning executives from TV, streaming and radio are looking to shore up cash and talent to take advantage of disgruntled Trump voters thirsty for their own flavor of news, and a new under-the-radar initiative comes from a group of right-wing entrepreneurs.

They include the controversial conservative media personality, John Cardillo, who once fronted a show on Newsmax; and Ned Ryun, who runs a political training company American Majority, according to three people who confirmed the news to Business Insider. 

The former Newsmax chief executive, Michael Clemente, a former executive VP at Fox News, is said to be part of the group. Clemente did not immediately respond for comment. 

Cardillo and Ryun had previously pitched on-air talent about joining their prospective media venture ahead of the election. Now that the votes have been counted (or recounted), they're out again soliciting talent and financing.

Read more: Jared Kushner floating launch of a new Trump-branded media outlet, GOP sources say. It's another sign of a looming 2020 defeat.

One of the sources believes the group has enough cash shored up to launch a streaming venture with some limited cable TV distribution deals. Launching a streaming venture would take as little as half a million dollars, said one industry executive in the field, noting that most of the costs involve paying talent and marketing.

Cardillo confirmed his efforts to Business Insider, saying: "There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and a need for more conservative outlets," adding that Fox News' audience is only about five million while more than 70 million plus-people voted for President Donald Trump.

Cardillo, who has a photo of himself with Roger Stone on his Facebook page, said: "People forget that as well as being a successful real estate executive, Trump had a top rated show [The Apprentice] on air for 14 years… I wouldn't be surprised if he [Trump] started hosting his own daily show."

Ryun didn't return calls for comment.

WGN wants in on Trump supporters

Chicago-based cable channel WGN, owned by station owner Nexstar, is also making a bid for Trump-thirsty viewers. And WGN is run by Sean Compton, who developed a Donald Trump-hosted radio show called "Trumped," which ran on radio stations until 2008 and WGN also has a radio division.

Compton also signed Sean Hannity for his radio show at Premiere Radio Networks, a syndication giant owned by iHeartMedia. Compton and Trump are said to still be friends and Compton just got a promotion this month to run Nexstar Networks. Several media insiders have speculated that Trump could look at doing a radio show given the popular Rush Limbaugh could one day step down due to ill health.

WGN carries general entertainment, but in the fall, it launched a prime time news block called News Nation, which stunned news folk after it bagged an interview with Trump just weeks after its launch. There is wide speculation over whether Nexstar will axe WGN's entertainment programming in favor of more news or seek to sell the asset, said the two sources, who are familiar with Nexstar's options. 

Read more: Inside BuzzFeed and HuffPost's merger, where talk is turning to who will be HuffPost's next EIC and what BuzzFeed will buy next

Indeed, Nexstar chief executive, Perry Sook, told analysts on a call early November, "We're talking about potentially launching a — to borrow a PBS term, a 'Crossfire' show — to have people on opposite sides of an issue every night. And we have some other things in the works, and I don't want to tip our hand there." A Nexstar spokesman declined to comment. 

Nexstar acquired WGN as part of its acquisition of Tribune Media. WGN had been destined to become a news channel under station group rival Sinclair Broadcast Group, though its deal to acquire Tribune fell apart.

The Blaze sees growth in video

Glenn Beck's The Blaze had struggled to carve a big enough audience to sustain its cable presence, but it appears the owners see growth in subscription video, perhaps in the hands of a bigger cable operator. 

The Blaze, which merged with Mark Levin's CRTV in 2018 to create The Blaze Media, was pitched to at least one major media company this past summer, said one person who heard the pitch. The Blaze founder Tyler Cardon denied there is a sales process, but says he's open to talking. 

"We are always interested in exploring strategic partnerships if they would help continue our rapid growth or otherwise enable us to provide benefits to our audience," he said. "We are a profitable business and we're having a phenomenal year (big traffic gains, top 20 podcast publisher, largest right-of-center OTT platform), so it makes sense that the phone would be ringing more than ever. We're thrilled with the way things are going; but sure, if something could make sense, we're happy to explore it. It would be foolish not to."

There's appetite for Fox News alternatives

Others in the Fox News diaspora continue to draw audiences. Megyn Kelly is building her own media company. And former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said he attracted 5,000 new subscribers to his opinion service in recent months. On Sinclair's "America First," hosted by yet another Fox News personality Eric Bolling, on November 11, O'Reilly also appeared to critique his former employer, saying: "In the cable news world, you are polarizing Americans. Fox News makes money by loving Trump and CNN and MSNBC by hating him."

And Trump has been launching war on parts of Fox News, which called the race for Biden and changed its on air slogan in recent days to read: "Standing up for what's right," replacing "Democracy 2020," which ran during the election period.

"Try watching OANN," Trump tweeted on Monday, November 16, "Really great." 

One hedge fund chief told Business Insider he was furious with Fox News for calling the race and was tuning in to Newsmax and OANN instead. Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy told Business Insider the interest from advertisers and affiliate partners lately has been "huge." 

Indeed, Newsmax has been appearing on Facebook's Top 10 performing link posts along with Fox News, and its ratings are breaking the million viewer-mark, according to Axios. Typically they'd attract a couple of hundred thousand viewers per night.

The money is there

Trump has a number of supporters in financial circles, not least the wealthy families of Palm Beach, Florida, where Mar-A-Lago Club is located, but there are plenty of potential financial backers for such ventures. Cerberus Capital's Stephen Feinberg is close to Trump. Cerberus was not immediately reachable for comment. 

The Wall Street Journal reported the Hicks Equity Partners were looking to raise money for conservative media efforts and had held conversations with Newsmax. 

These efforts are likely to concern Fox News, which is the main revenue engine of Fox. Notably, the New York Post's Opinion section ran a column by writer Peter Roff, arguing that the right should be supporting all conservative media. The New York Post is owned by News Corporation, which shares Murdoch family ownership with Fox.

"In a battle for all the marbles, conservatives can ill afford to limit their reach. Cutting off Fox in favor of small outlets — some of which I do appear on — is like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face," he wrote.

But Trump already has a giant brand

Trump is likely to have his own plans to market his brands, post-presidency. 

Axios reported earlier this month that Trump is looking at a digital subscription venture. Subscription streaming ventures are inexpensive to launch. 

Trump, with 88.9 million followers, has the seventh biggest following on Twitter, according to Brandwatch, and Howard Polskin, president of The Righting, a daily newsletter that aggregates right wing content, said such an approach could make sense. 

"You could argue that Donald Trump is the most well-known brand in the world," he said. "When I see Trump linking to certain right wing sites, it's a tremendous shot in the arm for their audience development. He is linking a lot to Breitbart. He's keeping everyone guessing. He is his own media company; what does he need an established media company for?"

While sources say Fox News executives are rattled by the incursions of others, toppling Fox News won't be easy. The network's primetime hosts frequently appear in the top 10 of all TV, even in the week after the election (through November 13). Fox prime time averaged 3.96 million viewers. The network reaps an estimated $2 per month per subscriber, according to Kagan data, and is projected to take in more than $1 billion in advertising this year.

Christopher Balfe is the former co-founder of The Blaze and current CEO of Red Seat Ventures, which runs digital operations for Megyn Kelly, among other conservatives. Balfe said a Trump subscription streaming service could be successful given his loyal audience, but added, "Even a successful Trump SVOD service wouldn't take much of a bite out of Fox News. Fan-driven SVOD services tend to be secondary programming sources, not replacements for linear TV. And Fox News has tens of millions of monthly viewers."

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