Will Glenn Beck Jump Ship — a $200 Million Gamble?

According to street buzz and a story by the New York Times’ Brian Stelter, Glenn Beck is considering a business startup to complete his media empire. The emoting host’s contract ends at the bottom of this year, and he would then be free to head up his own enterprise, a Beck owned and run television network.

But networks don’t come cheap. Or easy. Discovery is reported to have sunk more than $200 million into OWN, which started broadcasting Jan. 1. And in February, only about 135,000 people were watching OWN, a number down 10 percent from Discovery Heath, The New York Times reported. The network has already had to shuffle its programming.

It sounds as if Beck has given the idea some deep thought. The Times said that the host has “been contemplating a cable channel of his own for more than a year.”

glenn, beck, david, carr, own, oprah, winfrey, insider extreme, sarah, palin
Glenn Beck

If anyone can pull it off, Beck can. Other than former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, no other media figure can raise the blood pressure of those on the left like Fox News host Glenn Beck.

There are other signs indicating a Beck cable channel possibility. He has been busily expanding the off and on-air personnel of his Web TV venture and his independent media company.

The Times cited reports, including one from the Mediate Web site, which named a senior Fox News executive, Joel Cheatwood, as a key player who “would soon join Mr. Beck’s growing media company, Mercury Radio Arts.”

Sources also indicate that Beck’s business relationship with current employer Fox News is less than cozy, partially due to a significant number of sought after advertisers who have dropped his show. David Carr, another New York Times writer, recently cited anonymous Fox News officials who “are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.”

Owning a network isn’t Beck’s only option. A Beck network could include the acquisition of an existing cable channel or expansion of his subscriber-based Web content business, “Insider Extreme,” which takes in roughly $4 million a year.

Observers of media personalities and contract renegotiations view the story with a dose of cynicism, questioning whether or not Beck’s camp is merely engaging in positioning for his upcoming contract renewal.

Forbes’ Marc Babej is of the opinion that this is precisely what is going on.

“Talk of a Glenn Beck TV network might have its origins in a contract negotiation tactic. As a major programming concept it would be a nonstarter,” Babej wrote.

Starting a network from scratch involves significant risk, particularly since the effort requires an abundance of advertisers. Beck’s ratings are unprecedented for his cable time slot, hitting about 2 million viewers a day and outdrawing all of his competition combined.

These kinds of numbers may induce Fox News to bury the Beck hatchet, much like CBS is reportedly in the process of doing with sitcom star Charlie Sheen.

If Beck actually attempts to follow in Oprah Winfrey’s footsteps and goes forward with his own network, it may signal a new media trend, one that may serve to increase the leverage media personalities have with respect to their employers.

That’s if — and it’s a big if — the network is successful.