One America News Has Support of Trump, But Not Cable Companies

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One America News Network, the conservative TV station that’s been criticized for sharing conspiracy theories, has found a loyal fan in Donald Trump. The hard part will be parlaying that exposure into a larger audience.

The president gave the network a big boost this month -- tweeting an OAN story that maligned the elderly protester who was knocked down and injured by police on TV during a protest in Buffalo, New York.

But unlike the networks it wants to compete with -- Fox News, MSNBC and CNN -- OAN has never been carried by big pay-TV providers like Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Dish Network Corp. To reach its audience, the network depends heavily on its largest distributor, AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV, which has been losing subscribers at a rapid clip.

DirecTV agreed to carry OAN in 2017 in a deal that at one point was scheduled to expire in early 2021, according to people familiar with the matter. The companies declined to comment on any negotiation to extend the agreement. Charles Herring, president of OAN parent Herring Networks Inc., said the deal won’t end in early 2021, but declined to provide details.

Launched in 2013, OAN says it’s available in about 35 million U.S. TV homes. Finding a spot on systems owned by Comcast, Charter and Dish would more than double that number, helping the channel reach another 48 million customers. For comparison, as of last June, Fox News had about 84 million subscribers.

OAN is also available online and through platforms like Roku, but it can’t reach the large swaths of viewers that -- like many Fox News fans -- prefer their cable news on cable. And Trump amplifying the network and igniting controversy around it could make it harder to win over cable distributors.

In an interview, Herring said that Trump’s tweets about the channel “have been good for the brand” and he defended the network’s reporting. He also praised AT&T for carrying OAN.

“We are very pleased that AT&T seems to want to offer programming for everybody and not just people with one viewpoint,” he said.

But OAN’s programming, while popular with Trump loyalists, may look problematic to Charter and Comcast -- especially now that companies are under greater scrutiny following protests about racial injustice and police brutality.

‘Antifa Tactics’

Earlier this month, a few dozen protesters gathered outside OAN’s headquarters in San Diego in response to its recent report that Trump tweeted about. Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy has faced criticism for wearing an OAN T-shirt.

The most prominent controversy began when OAN aired a report that said a 75-year-old protester seriously injured by Buffalo police “was appearing to use common Antifa tactics,” a reference to the loosely organized leftist movement.

Videos that spread online showed two police officers knocking over the man, Martin Gugino, without provocation. He fell and began bleeding from his head. The officers were later arrested and charged with assault. (Gugino fractured his skull, according to his lawyer.)

Trump didn’t provide any evidence that the man, a longtime peace activist, had ties to organized antifascist protesters. Still, Trump tweeted the claim on June 9, drawing attention to the report and OAN.

Trump’s support for OAN comes at a time when he’s been less friendly with Fox News. On Twitter, he has slammed that network for “doing nothing” to help him get re-elected.

One hurdle to getting carried by other major TV providers may be OAN’s contract with DirecTV. Under the terms, DirecTV is required to make OAN available to 85% of its subscribers, and the channel must seek the same arrangement with other pay-TV companies, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. In addition, OAN and its sister channel, AWE, which stands for “A Wealth of Entertainment,” charge pay-TV providers a monthly fee of about 15 cents per subscriber, according to Herring.

Tough Terms

Together, those provisions may be too onerous to entice big cable-TV providers to carry the network, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the contract is private.

And OAN will have a large chunk of its audience at stake when it negotiates a contract renewal with AT&T, which has about 19 million pay-TV customers.

The economics of the industry are also working against the network. Pay-TV companies like DirecTV are trying to cut how much they pay for channels as they lose customers to Netflix. Last month, AT&T shut down one of its own channels, the Audience Network.

Since OAN’s launch seven years ago, Herring has taken a confrontational approach in the industry, filing lawsuits and regulatory complaints against cable-TV providers.

OAN once ran billboard ads near Dish’s headquarters in an effort to get the satellite-TV company to carry the channel. The billboards listed the mobile-phone number of a Dish executive and encouraged people to call.

Herring Networks secured a spot for OAN on DirecTV in April 2017 after suing AT&T. Last month, a federal judge dismissed a separate defamation suit that OAN filed against MSNBC host Rachel Maddow after she called the channel “paid Russian propaganda.” Comcast, which owns MSNBC, was also named in the case.

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