Once upon a time there was a cable news network that nobody liked. Nobody except the loons, that is: those very special people who willfully eschew logical reasoning and the established corpus of knowledge in favor of febrile theories, weird cultural grievances, and other made-up bullshit. As luck would have it, there were enough loons out there for the network to be aired by many cable providers, and to reap millions of dollars in carriage fees year after year after year. Then, in a shocking development, one of America’s foremost loons was elected president—and One America News Network, the network that nobody liked, found itself having A Moment.
It is now July 2022, and OAN’s moment is definitively over. On Sunday, July 31, the network’s carriage deal with Verizon Fios expires and will not be renewed, meaning that OAN will no longer be included in any of Verizon’s cable packages. The Verizon deal is the second major carriage deal that OAN has lost this year; its lucrative distribution agreement with DirecTV expired and was not renewed in April. As of August 1, the network will only be viewable via certain streaming services, its own app, and on certain smaller cable providers such as GCI, which operates in Alaska. Yukon ho, conspiracists!
Some OAN network personnel have characterized this trend as “cancel culture” motivated by a “Marxist agenda,” rhetoric which in itself sort of shows you why very few companies want to be in business with the network anymore. Accusations of censorship aside, the deplatforming of OAN can also be seen as a simple business decision on the part of Verizon and DirecTV: Namely, that it no longer makes sense for these carriers to spend good money each year airing a network that nobody watches, is beset by lawsuits, and is a vector for toxic misinformation. Before we bid farewell to OAN, though, let’s look back at its “glory days,” such as they are.
OAN was founded in 2013 by Robert Herring, a high-school dropout and serial entrepreneur who apparently saw a market for a cable news network that wasted neither time nor money on standard production values or credible fact-checking. The market opportunity was driven by the way that the business of cable and satellite television works. These carriers long attracted customers by touting subscription packages featuring hundreds of channels, many of which go broadly unwatched. (Have you watched “So Yummy TV” lately? How about “World Harvest Television”?) These tiny networks are sustained, by and large, by carriage fees: micropayments that are assessed on a per-subscriber basis and paid out by the cable/satellite provider to their constituent networks. The providers generally roll these fees into the subscription prices that they charge their users, which means, basically, that it doesn’t cost DirecTV much of anything at all to create a channel slot for, like, The Mistletoe Network or Broom Closet TV.
If you’ve ever wondered why cable and satellite packages are so expensive, it’s because you’re paying for the hundreds of stupid little channels that you don’t watch in order to access the dozen or so that you do. Cord-cutting and the rise of streaming services have, of late, imperiled this business model, which is one big reason why many major cable and satellite providers are seeking to divest themselves of channels that no longer add value. Back in 2013, though, if you had had sufficient resources, sales acumen, and ambition, you, too, could have launched a bare-bones cable network and realized profit via carriage fees.
OAN probably would have remained broadly unnoticed on the back end of the channel list, shouting weird theories and paleoconservative dogma to insomniacs and shut-ins and reaping the carriage fee boondoggle. But then came the rise of Donald Trump. OAN’s moment in the sun began with Trump’s election, because Trump effectively was the network’s core demographic: an aging, inattentive crank receptive to conspiracies and addled by resentments. While Fox News’ eventual embrace of the Trump candidacy seemed perhaps a bit opportunistic, OAN and Trump were in each other’s wheelhouse right from the start. “It’s a great network,” Trump said of OAN in August 2017, after taking a press conference question from the network’s 23-year-old White House correspondent. The network was still obscure and unpopular, but now it had a well-placed champion.
OAN’s moment arguably peaked in November and December 2020, as right-wing viewers seeking validation of their objectively incorrect belief that Donald Trump actually won that year’s presidential election fled Fox News for OAN and Newsmax, another right-wing news channel. Those two networks were willing to entertain the premise that the election had been stolen (it had not been stolen), and as a result they saw a short-term bump in their ratings numbers and their public profiles. Then, on Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of loons agitated by these stolen-election lies marched on and over-ran the U.S. Capitol, in an effort to interrupt the certification of the presidential election, to take a bunch of selfies in the Rotunda and in various Congressional offices, and, if they could find him, to possibly hang Vice President Mike Pence.
This violent incursion marked the beginning of the end of OAN’s moment. Right-wing cable audiences moved back to Fox News after that network purged itself of many of its remaining reasonable voices while promoting Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters. OAN was named in several expensive lawsuits filed by individuals and entities which it had insinuated were complicit in the “theft” of the 2020 presidential election. The cable and satellite providers which had sustained OAN via their carriage fees, meanwhile, were bleeding subscribers to streaming services and had a renewed incentive to cut the fat. (It probably didn’t help the network’s case that, long past Jan. 6, some on the network continued to yell about “all these people who are responsible for overthrowing the election” while noting that “in the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with traitors: Execution.”)
It’s true that, in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, liberal groups such as Media Matters had publicly called upon OAN’s providers to drop the network. Make no mistake, though: It’s likely that the demise of OAN is driven less by public pressure campaigns or those providers’ distaste for fascist rhetoric than by simple economics. (After all, DirecTV and Verizon also faced pressure campaigns from OAN fans urging them to keep the network.) If the cable and satellite business model still worked as well as it did a decade ago, OAN would likely still be on the air. Likewise, if the network was actually pulling high enough ratings, it wouldn’t matter what its anchors were saying or whom they wanted to execute: OAN would still have a place in Verizon and DirecTV’s channel lineups. America’s cable and satellite providers are more than willing to platform even the most toxic loons as long as those loons make them money.