Trump Ties Raise Questions on Cable Channel Acquisitions

Trump Ties Raise Questions on Cable Channel Acquisitions
VIP photo illustration; AP Images, Adobe Stock

Any time a company with deep ties to Donald Trump makes an acquisition in the media business, it’s worth asking some hard questions.

So pardon my skepticism when Hicks Equity Partners, a private-equity firm that reportedly explored buying opportunities in preparation for mounting a right-wing cable channel, snapped up a pair of TV networks Monday. The channels in question were Great American Country, previously owned by Discovery, and equestrian net RideTV.

But before you can say “Trump TV,” note that Bloomberg reported sources suggesting the acquired networks were being used for a “family-friendly” approach, not “political commentary.” In addition, the hire of former Hallmark CEO Bill Abbott is just the person you would expect to spearhead a family-friendly venture given he already worked from that playbook at Hallmark.

Acquiring a cable network nowadays seems about as intuitive as buying a horse and buggy. It makes even less sense for a company that isn’t already deeply invested in cable channels; without ownership of a must-have channel, independents have little leverage to wield with multichannel distributors. Even channel-heavy businesses like the soon-to-merge WarnerMedia and Discovery have been shedding any second-tier brands like Great American Country as the pay-TV business continues to shrink rapidly.

And yet even in decline, this once hugely profitable business is nothing to sneeze at. Even channels that aren’t fully distributed can expect a robust mix of advertising and affiliate fees if they made the right deals.

Family-friendly TV would seem to imply content that doesn’t include anything touching on, shall we say, “mature” themes. Or maybe, given the Trump-centric orientation of Hicks Media, family friendly means anything targeting the red-state consumers who propelled Trump to power. It’s a group that sees Hollywood as a liberal swamp, which means there could be an opportunity to deliver that audience non-Hollywood entertainment more tailored to its sensibilities. It’s the same strategy conservative entrepreneur Ben Shapiro appears to be pursuing via his Daily Wire venture.

That’s much easier said than done, of course. But GAC Media has the distribution in place to reach them effectively if they’re betting the segment of the audience last to leave pay TV is the “family friendly” audience that Abbott knows Hallmark has had pretty much all to itself for too long.

Regardless, it’s a little odd that a venture known to be kicking the tires just last year at a Fox News Channel rival like Newsmax TV apparently wants to take a different approach. And that approach just happens to be the conservative-friendly subject of “family friendly” fare. It’s hard not to dismiss the possibility that this channel will be used in some shape or fashion as a beachhead for political content at some point down the road, with Trump as Hicks’ ace in the hole.