Why Glenn Beck Should Leave Fox News Channel

by Russ Hill on March 23, 2011

A New York Times article about Glenn Beck’s future plans is creating quite the stir in media circles.

The possibility that Glenn Beck might leave Fox News Channel is old news.  The new bombshell is that Beck is considering starting his own television channel.

Glenn Beck Leaving Fox News ChannelThis is one of those moments when you stop.  And consider how the media landscape is changing.  In dramatic and historic ways.

If you work at a media company you’re going to be left behind if you don’t pay serious attention and fully grasp the implications of this monumental shift.

Brian Stelter, of the New York Times, puts the Beck/Fox News story in proper context:

Were Mr. Beck to set off on his own, it would be a landmark moment for the media industry, reflecting a shift in the balance of power between media institutions and the personal brands of people they employ.

Landmark moment.  Yup.  And, I’d argue this is a landmark moment in media regardless of what Beck does.  Because this is much bigger than just Beck.  He’s not the first in his position.  And, he’s certainly not going to be the last.

Glenn Beck Is Not the First

Oprah has already done it.  (And, don’t tell me you’re one of the fools who are paying attention to her early ratings.  Oprah will get it right.)

Conan O’Brien has done it.  So has Keith Olbermann.  Seth Godin too.

What they’ve done is taken control of their brand.  And, taken control away from the media or publishing company they previously worked for.  Some have left due to a battle between them and their bosses.  And, what were those battles about?  This shift in power.

It is pure insanity that Glenn Beck has to worry about what Fox News Channel thinks of his show.  Do I think he’s a little too “the end is near, hide in your bunker” right now?  Are you kidding?  Of course.  But, who cares?  The fact is he has millions of followers.  They listen to him on the radio.  They watch him on TV.  They read his books.  They subscribe to his website.  They sell out 10,000 seat arenas to see him talk (for 8 hours!).

This is a man who has built a following.  And, about a year and a half ago he smartly began to assemble his followers on Twitter, Facebook, and his websites.  (And, if he’s leaving Fox he should dramatically intensify his efforts in this area.)

Beck realizes he is large enough to build a successful media brand on his own.  He can free himself from having to worry if he’s said something that his bosses at Fox News Channel don’t like.

Some will argue Beck won’t have as large a platform if he leaves Fox.  Maybe that’s true today.  But, it won’t be true soon.

The playing field is being leveled between legacy brands and startups.  What Arianna Huffington has done in the news business would not have been possible 10 years ago.  Tim Westergren could not have made a dent in the radio business if he was born 20 years earlier.  Who would have believed Leo Laporte if he told you he was going to build a 24/7 TV station out of a small house in California that would eventually attract major sponsors like Ford?

And, these people built their brands during the early days of the social web.  As sharing becomes easier it will continue to level the playing field.  Being attached to a heritage media brand will have little to no advantage.

Build Your Own Following, Now

This is something all media personalities should take note of.  Because, the universe is changing.  Media personalities do something that is becoming increasingly valuable in today’s digital world: create sought-after content.

That’s where the opportunity exists for traditional media personalities.

The smart ones are investing their own hard-earned money paying for personal website developers and designers to build them their own home on the Internet.  The smart ones are brainstorming ways to add value to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

The smart ones are using the platform traditional media currently offers them to convert thousands, and in some cases millions, of their listeners, viewers, or readers to their personal digital media outlets.  So, they can build a database of their followers that is owned by them.

The Game is Changing

Traditional media companies are fighting this trend.  They still hold enough of the power to win some of the battles in this space.  But, I can feel the tide turning.  We are at the tipping point.  And, as media companies cut salaries, or in the best case, keep salaries flat for their top name talent, they are surrendering the future of content to the media companies of tomorrow.

Creators of great content WILL get paid.

The big question right now is who will pay them.

I’m convinced traditional media has already largely lost this battle.  For two reasons.  First, despite their denials to this fact, they simply do not fully comprehend how much the world has changed.  And, second, their revenue is not growing fast enough for them to pay their talent what they are worth.

Technology increasingly allows personalities to speak directly to their followers without the company’s microphone, camera, or printing press. Media personalities can now easily move their audience when they embark on a new adventure.

The clock is ticking.  Money is already starting to flow toward the media companies of tomorrow.  The personalities who will be most attractive will be those with the largest and most engaged followers.  There is no time to waste.

Glenn Beck clearly understands this.  And, the article in the New York Times is clearly a move by him to test the waters and generate some phone calls from those who control the flow of money.

I’m confident his phone will be ringing.

And he’ll have a solid backup plan in case Fox News is one of those traditional media companies that doesn’t understand the tide is turning.

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