Can OAN Network Survive Without That Sweetheart DirecTV Deal? | Analysis

Available to WrapPRO members

The right-leaning network faces an uncertain future after April

oan one america news network
Getty Images

As the far-right-wing network One America News loses its lucrative contract with DirecTV when it expires in April, analysts question whether the cable network will survive financially — since the satellite service provided roughly 90% of OAN’s revenue, according to a Reuters report last fall.

“If you do the math, it suggests that OAN’s total revenues are negligible,” Iliya Rybchin, partner at management consulting firm Elixirr, told TheWrap. “Any affiliate fees OAN may have gotten from DirectTV would have to be incredibly small. Any advertising revenues would also be tiny, given the small audience and the fact that many mainstream brands would not advertise on OAN.”

In fact, it’s possible founder and owner Robert Herring has been operating the company at a loss for some time, Rybchin added. As majority owner of DirecTV until spinning off the company last August, AT&T had been instrumental in the founding of OAN back in 2013. Earlier this month, Herring went on air urging viewers to call their cable companies to protect its future after DirecTV drops the channel.

OAN reps did not return requests for comment for this story.

Much of the network’s content is aimed at conservatives, and with this change OAN will be removed from millions of homes using DirecTV as a provider. OAN is available in roughly 30 million U.S. TV households, according to Reuters, and DirecTV had about 15 million video subscribers last November — meaning OAN could lose half of its potential viewership come April. OAN is also carried by Verizon FiOS, CenturyLink PRISM, GCI and some online streaming platforms, including KlowdTV.

Adding to OAN’s losses, DirecTV also maintains a lot of older subscribers who have not yet cut the cord. “Being dropped by DirecTV is a bigger blow for a right-wing cable news channel than it would be for others, because both the right-wing and cable news audiences skew so old,” communication consultant Spencer Critchley told TheWrap.

And advertising is unlikely to make up the slack since the channel’s viewership is already minuscule — though how small remains a mystery since the company does not publicly report its ratings. When Nielsen briefly measured OAN’s audience in the biggest metro areas in spring 2019, the network averaged only 14,000 total daily viewers. (By comparison, Fox News averaged 631,000 viewers in those markets during that time period, while MSNBC averaged 558,000 viewers.)

Ultimately, the key to OAN’s survival might lie in doing what it does best: producing envelope-pushing content for a rabid right-wing audience. “Most people who watch OAN are drawn to that content irrespective of where it may be found,” Rybchin said. “If it’s no longer on DirecTV, they will seek it out and find it elsewhere.”

OAN programming has often incited intense criticism, from the peddling of COVID conspiracy theories to fraudulent claims about the 2020 presidential election. The company has been facing a number of defamation lawsuits, including complaints involving MSNBC and host Rachel Maddow and Dominion Voting Systems, which sued seeking $1.6 billion in damages for demonstrably false claims about the company’s role in the 2020 election.

“Inflammatory content is perfectly suited to social media because it converts each member of the audience into a micro-broadcaster, volunteering to relay the message to their network, yielding the logarithmic and viral effects of subsequent recipients doing the same,” Critchley said. “Transmitter power gets replaced by network power, so as long as OANN stays effective at producing provocative lunacy and releases it online, they’ll probably do OK.”

While polarizing content may help garner large viewership, that coverage isn’t necessarily good journalism – or journalism at all, in some cases. Some hail DirecTV’s decision as a positive move toward restoring order in the news business: “DirecTV dropping One America News Network is an important step toward improving journalism in the digital age,” John V. Pavlik, journalism and media professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said. “Objectivity, or a lack of bias in coverage, is a hallmark of quality journalism and has been largely missing in the journalism of One America News Network.”

OAN has also faced growing competition in the right-wing news space from major players Fox News and NewsMax, as well as newer media including Blaze Media. With the rise of social media usage, traditional broadcast also faces challenges in winning over viewers who have a limited number of hours to consume content.

“My thesis is that there will always be lots of tiny fringe players, but the market will not sustain more than two to three scale players,” Rybchin said. “The inability of right-leaning media companies to grow to massive scale, even during the peak of the Trump presidency, suggests that most media companies will never approach Fox in terms of size and market dominance.”

More alarmingly, Rybchin suggests that Herring’s company isn’t even much of an acquisition target. “If OAN folds, I doubt that anyone will buy the assets,” he said. “They really do not have anything of consequence to acquire, with [cable distribution no longer secure].”