Jonathan Klein, the former president of CNN’s United States operation, and Jeff Gaspin, the former chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, are just the sort of lamestream media elites that Sarah Palin is constantly railing against.
But, because this is America, where capitalism is the great equalizer between liberals and conservatives alike, a little difference of opinion hasn’t stopped the former governor of Alaska, Republican vice presidential nominee and right-wing political icon from joining forces with two blue-state media entrepreneurs to launch her own subscription-based online TV channel.
The Sarah Palin Channel “went up last night at 9 p.m.,” Klein told The Daily Beast on Monday morning. He said that his and Gaspin’s brand-new niche digital channel company, TAPP, has installed cameras all throughout the Palin house in Wasilla—“Sarah can flip a switch anytime she has something to say”—and they’re building out the channel from their production hub in Los Angeles, while Mike Greer, the former chief technology officer of the satirical news site The Onion, is leading the Sarah Palin Channel’s Web design team in San Francisco.
Palin’s contributor contract with Fox News—which the network’s chairman, Roger Ailes, reinstated last summer after a six-month hiatus following reported tensions with management—allowed her to make a side deal for digital TV, Klein said, adding that Palin is not getting guaranteed money up front but will receive a substantial but undisclosed percentage of the revenue stream.
And that could be major. Glenn Beck’s pioneering digital channel, The Blaze, boasts 300,000 subscribers who each pay $10 a month, generating around $36 million in annual revenue even before commercial time is sold. The online subscription channel for the WWE wrestling empire generates at least $80 million in annual revenue, Klein estimated.
Could this be an early step in turning the Palins into the political Kardashians—the astonishingly profitable reality-show family that is raking it in with brands and spinoffs ($65 million a year, according to published estimates)?
“We’re not out to make a reality show,” Klein said. “We’re out to make a channel that provides you with all the dimensions of her personality. People are nuanced. They have different layers and different levels. Too often people in public life are reduced to easily digestible cartoons… What we’re excited about is giving voice, for literally thousands of people who are out there, to someone who’s got passion and something to say and has a rabid audience that wants to hear it.”
Klein added: “Sarah Palin’s supporters and the members of her channel will get a 360-degree view of the person they adore.”
It will be “a news channel that really is a lot more than news. This is a community,” as Palin herself describes the enterprise in a flashily-produced introductory video. “Are you tired of the media filters? I am. I want to talk directly to you on my terms… No need to please the powers that be. And most importantly, I want you to talk to directly to me.”
Wearing a bright red sweater with sparkly things on the lapels, the 50-year-old mother of five and grandmother of one promises: “We’ll go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media’s politically correct filter.”
And you can take advantage of all this fabulous content on your laptop, tablet or smart phone for only $9.95 a month.
“We’ve been talking to the Palins for a while”—since their initial contact last year her with the ex-Guv’s lawyer-agent, Beltway establishment gatekeeper Bob Barnett—“but we really began talking in earnest a few months ago as her timing came together,” Klein said. “She’s got a complicated life. She does have five kids and three of them are at home, and she’s got a handful, running around the country giving speeches.”
Two of those kids—sexual abstinence advocate and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Bristol, 23, mother of Tripp and the ex-girlfriend of Tripp’s father, Levi Johnston; and middle school student Piper, 13, her mom’s frequent travel companion to all those high-dollar speeches—are also starring on the new channel’s web site. Bristol has her already-established blog on the site while Piper has begun to record her own video commentary. Meanwhile, Sarah’s mother, Scrabble aficionado Sally Heath, will be providing a word of the day, Klein said.
“When we began thinking about what types of personalities would be suitable for a TAPP channel, the governor really leaps out at you,” Klein said, “because she is obviously a very outspoken personality who has a lot to say, and whose supporters feel underserved. They feel they don’t get enough of Sarah. You can see that in the way they run out to see her speeches and buy her books, and mob her on the street.”
Klein said he and Gaspin sealed the deal five months ago with a visit to the Palin compound in Wasilla, a 45-minute drive from Anchorage. It was Klein’s first visit to Alaska, made all the more memorable because it occurred in the frigid depths of winter.
“We made the trip in February—that’s how dumb I am,” Klein said. “We actually passed moose on the road. I wonder whether they were placed there by the Alaska tourism board.”
Klein said he was pleasantly surprised by his close encounter with the governor. “She was a lot more down to earth than I expected and a lot less ‘on.’ She really is like a lot of the moms I hang out with at Little League games, and really fun to be around," he said. "She’s normal and very nice—and a helluva moose chili cook.”