Lightning Rod

Is Cablevision Ready for Glenn Beck?

He’s back to the headline-grabbing antics that ended his days at Fox News. Does Cablevision know what it’s getting into? By David Freedlander.

Say this for Glenn Beck: the guy really knows how to make an entrance.

Just as it was announced last week that the cable distributor Cablevision has picked up the conservative shock-jock’s fledgling Internet channel, The Blaze, Beck has again found himself fending off a series of controversies of his own making.

First, there was his keynote address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in which he appeared to compare Mike Bloomberg to Hitler—only to later say that in fact, he was only comparing the New York City mayor to Lenin. A few days prior, on his radio show, he said that God “has got to destroy us” because “We are denying his existence. We are denying his power. We are slapping him in the face.” And the week before, he had alleged a coverup by the federal government in the Boston Marathon bombings.

All of which has led cable industry watchers to wonder: does Cablevision know what it is getting into?

“I don’t think that a public company can withstand that kind of scrutiny,” said one industry vet with close ties to Beck. “You will be apologizing regularly for things he said, you will be dealing with complaints from subscribers and shareholders. They have to know what the content is. I mean, he couldn’t even stay on Fox News!”

Beck left Fox in 2011 as the network faced declining ratings and fleeing advertisers from Beck’s brand of talk show. He began his own Internet network, with associated website and newsletter, and began last year a concerted campaign to get picked up by major cable providers, with executives at the company urging fans to petition their cable company to carry The Blaze. The deal with Cablevision represents his biggest distribution deal yet, with around three million subscribers in the New York metro region now able to tune in.

Cablevision did not respond by press time with a request for a comment on Beck’s recent outburst, but Beck’s representatives pointed out there has of yet been few calls for a boycott of the Dish Network, on which The Blaze has appeared for the past six months, or any of the other half dozen or so smaller cable distributors that have picked it up recently.

Cable viewers need not stray far of course to find news anchors and talk show hosts making controversial statements. But in the case of Beck and Cablevision, industry analysts say the cable operator may be more responsible than is often the case. When, for example, Bill Maher says something controversial on his late night comedy show, offended viewers can flood the network with phone calls and rally support for an advertiser boycott. In Beck’s case, since outlandish statements and unwieldy conspiracy theories have been practically his network’s calling card, outraged viewers can’t exactly call up the network to complain about the conspiracies and outlandish statements. Their only recourse will be the cable provider.

And although Beck has plenty of fervent fans, he has a legion of opponents as well. The Anti-Defamation League has regularly criticized the talk show host, for, among other statements, accusing George Soros of helping to send his fellow Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust and comparing Reform Judaism to radical Islam.

Media Matters for America, the liberal media watchdog group, regularly publicizes Beck’s stumbles. In 2010, the group hired Angelo Carusone, a then-28-year-old, whose “Stop Beck” online campaign pressured advertisers to drop the show. Now, Carusone said that the group is preparing to remind Cablevision subscribers that they are helping to pay Beck’s salary.

Beck’s recent statements, he said, “Are a strong reminder that Glenn Beck is bad for business. There are a lot of people that will not want to pay him one red cent, and when he is front and center, people will start thinking about what they are paying for [in their cable bill.]”

Carusone’s said that it was likely Beck’s strategy to get on as many distribution channels as possible, regardless of the economics of the moment, in order to increase his subscriber fees down the road.

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“He is playing the long game here. And because his fan base is so fervent he can then negotiate down the road for an increase subscriber fee. It is dollar-chasing. He needs to find a revenue stream and this is a revenue stream.”

Other industry analysts however said that they doubted that the presence of Beck on the airwaves would mean much for the cable providers of the world.

“What does one channel mean to a company that is pretty successful? The answer is pretty much nothing,” said Bruce Leichtman, of Leichtman Research Group. “It is just one individual channel you look for.”

Instead, he said, what the Beck-to-Cablevision deal showed was that no matter much how much analysts predict a world in which TV stars are able to create their own networks online, cable is still “the goose that can lay the golden egg.”

“We are not there, where you can launch something purely online. The only exception to that appears to be porn.”