Donald Trump’s inner circle may already be eyeing his next act, according to a handful of recent reports. Citing an anonymous source, the Financial Times reported on Monday that Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, had approached an investment banker who specializes in media deals about the prospect of starting a Trump TV network. That follows a June report by Vanity Fair, also anonymously sourced, that claimed Trump hoped to follow his presidential run by founding his own media company. Putting aside the question of whether Trump is truly putting us through this whole ordeal just so he can have his own TV channel, it’s worth considering: How would he actually go about doing it?
There are two paths one could take to launch Trump TV—and they’re not mutually exclusive.
The first is the old-school way. In order to start an actual cable network, Trump and his backers—he would definitely need backers—would have to line up what are called “carriage deals,” or agreements between a cable network and a multichannel video programming distributor (like Comcast or Time Warner Cable) in which the latter pays the former a certain amount of money to carry it in its cable package. Since those numbers are based on the number of viewers the network has (and the nascent Trump Network would not yet have any viewers), there might be some disagreement around the amount of money a Comcast or Dish should pay for the rights to carry Trump TV.
There is a way around that awkward negotiation, however, which is to buy and rebrand an existing cable network, which is what Al Jazeera America did with Current TV. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of existing cable networks for sale, so Trump would have to put those negotiating skills he loves to brag about to particularly fierce use.
Once Trump had gotten his cable network in place, he’d need to fill it with programming—24/7/365. The cost of that programming would depend on its type. A 24-hour news network has different costs than scripted programming, and both of those are typically more expensive than reality, or unscripted, TV. Not that you couldn’t do news and scripted programming on the cheap, but this is the Trump Network we’re talking about.
For original scripted or unscripted programming, Trump would need to decide whether he wanted to try and produce it himself or whether he’d use outside studios. (The latter results in lower profits but reduces risks and eliminates the cost of building a production studio from scratch.) In addition to original programming, Trump would likely need to buy syndicated programming—e.g., reruns from other networks and studios, to fill the hours between say 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. (Or he could just broadcast his Twitter feed.)
There would also be promotional costs: While Trump’s sizable social media presence might lower marketing costs considerably, the network would still need to run ads and promotions to drive viewers to tune in and to let people know which channel Trump TV was actually on. Trump would also need to determine what to do with his shows once they’d initially aired: Would they then be available on video on demand? How long after they aired? To everyone or only to pay-TV subscribers?
The final decision Trump would need to make is how to monetize: Would Trump TV be a premium, subscription network à la HBO, with no ads, or would it be ad-supported?
If Trump were to go the ad-supported route, he’d need to hire an ad sales team. Said team would then need to call on ad agencies and start selling ads. Since ads are sold on the basis of a show’s ratings, the ad sales team might face some pushback based on the difference between Trump’s own projections and the ad agencies’. And, of course some advertisers might not want to be associated with the Trump brand.
The second route is a bit less complicated and would involve Trump launching his own online or over-the-top network, à la Glenn Beck and TheBlaze.
In this model, Trump would only have to produce about 15 to 30 hours of programming a week. This would greatly lower his capital expenditures, though he’d still face many of the same costs—actors need to be paid, news anchors need to be lured away from their current jobs—and all that costs money. Then Trump would have to hire someone to build an app that was available on everything from Roku players and Apple TV to tablets and smartphones, laptops, and desktops. (And even Xboxes and PlayStations.)
A big decision here would be which monetization model to use. Trump could offer the network for free and make money off advertising. He could charge a subscription fee and then run limited advertising, à la Hulu. He could employ an ad-free subscription-only model, à la Netflix. Or he could offer a truly hybrid model in which some content was free, the rest available for paid subscribers with specific shows or episodes available à la carte. (That’s the model used by some of the newer Chinese OTT networks.)
Depending on the model, Trump would need to hire an ad sales team (see above) and set up a billing department (to collect all those monthly subscription fees and hound the deadbeats). He’d want to set up a deal with Apple, Amazon, and other online companies to sell Trump TV for him. And to keep the churn rate (or the rate at which viewers stop subscribing) low, he’d want to hire a customer relations management team to make sure customers were renewing their subscriptions and tuning in on a regular basis.
The final step for this OTT model would be the marketing push. Regardless of Trump TV’s chosen business model, viewers would need to download the app, and Trump would need more than just tweets to make sure that happened in significant numbers. On the plus side, he would likely be assured tens of millions of dollars worth of free publicity by media on both sides of the aisle, which would greatly reduce his marketing costs.
Trump could try both models if he wanted—a 24/7 cable network that shared content with an OTT network, similar to the way in which HBO and HBO Now operate. That would be a savvy move from a monetization standpoint, but the reality is that launching an actual cable network would be hard for Trump to pull off, particularly if he wanted to do it quickly to take advantage of the base he’s built up over the campaign. Even on an aggressive timeline, staffing, casting, shooting, editing, and finishing a single Trump-quality TV show will take months. The same would apply even if he were able to buy and rebrand an existing cable network, a process that can take many months.
Trump has a much better chance of pulling off an OTT network. His sizable social media presence, coupled with the vast amount of press he continues to get, guarantees that he’ll get an audience along with a whole lot of buzz. There’s less programming to produce and greater opportunity to monetize it. While a self-produced OTT network can feel second-tier compared to an actual cable TV network, the model may well be the future, and more than anyone, Trump is well-positioned to pull it off. Given the demands of starting one, it’s easy to imagine the launch of a Trump OTT channel happening as quickly as mid-2017—even earlier if he’d be willing to launch with a limited programming slate.
Regardless of which model Trump chose, he would need a slogan. Something like “Trump TV. Every show is at least a 10.”