Donald Trump will depart from the Oval Office on January 20, 2021 but that’s unlikely to be the last time that Americans hear from the outgoing president. While Trump’s post-presidency plans are uncertain, there has long been speculation that he would create a media business if he lost the presidential election. The idea of a “Trump TV” channel, show, or network was floated by numerous pundits prior to Trump winning the 2016 presidential election, and the subject has regained traction in the days following Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s re-election campaign boasted a prolific digital media operation and the president has nearly 89 million Twitter followers, but it’s unclear if either will be a benefit to him after his presidential term ends. The former was centered on promoting Trump’s presidential administration and re-election efforts, both of which have ended. As for the latter, though social media platforms rarely moderated the president over the last four years, Twitter and Facebook have actively limited engagement on and added warnings to Trump’s various posts that contain election misinformation over the last two weeks and the former company has stated that Trump’s account will lose its “public interest” protections after he becomes a private citizen.
Trump may need to find a new platform if he aims to continue exerting political influence and profiting off his celebrity status, and television is the likeliest medium, according to Gordon Stables, the director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
“Streaming or broadcast video is the most likely avenue. It’s the medium he seems to enjoy the most,” Stables said. “There’s a regularity to it and he really enjoys the optics of the visuals. The goals of a ‘Trump TV’ would probably a combination of finding a way to continue generating significant amounts of money; pre-election it was ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s monetizing his celebrity. The final thing to consider is that it would allow Trump to continue having political influence, whether or not he decides to run for something again. If this is ‘the government in exile,’ that is a good marketing point. If the president never concedes, that could draw people to his media business.”
Generating money is likely of key importance for Trump, given the New York Times’ recent reports on Trump’s tax return data. The publication reported in September that Trump’s financial well-being was dire prior to “The Apprentice” due to various failed businesses and career reinventions. “The Apprentice” and the endorsement and licensing deals that followed the show’s success were essentially a financial lifeline for Trump.
By the time Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, the losses from his floundering businesses had outweighed his financial gains from “The Apprentice.” He needed more money and though the publicity from his presidency has helped, according to the Times Trump is once again low on money and will have to pay hundreds of millions in loans within the next four years. It’s possible that Trump could try to replicate his success with “The Apprentice” via a post-presidency media business.
No matter the form it takes, such a venture would face considerable challenges. For one, successfully creating a new television network in 2020 is likely impossible. While television news has enjoyed a popularity spike over the last four years, the pay TV industry has been steadily declining for years and it would be difficult for anyone to secure carriage for a new network, especially someone as polarizing as Trump.
Trump could instead host a television show on an existing network, but doing so would also pose unique difficulties, especially if he aims to run for president in 2024. Though Trump has increasingly criticized Fox News in recent months — especially after the network called Arizona for Biden last week — of the major television media networks, Fox News’ conservative-leaning demographic would make it the likeliest fit for a Trump-hosted show. That said, no major media organizations, including Fox News, have allowed individuals to work for them if they are actively running for a political office.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment.
Trump could also seek a show at a smaller network; the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that Newsmax, a conservative media outlet that grew in prominence by aggressively supporting Trump’s presidency, had extended an open invitation to Trump to host a show on the channel.
A Newsmax spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
Trump’s divisive nature would also make it difficult for him to create any sort of ad-supported business. Advertisers tend to shy away from individuals and programming that promotes controversial political content, lest they face a consumer backlash. This has been recently exemplified by some of Fox News’ most outspoken hosts; pro-Trump pundits such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity lost major advertisers following their political comments in recent years. Given that any media entity that Trump creates would likely boast similar far-right programming, it’d be unlikely to strike deals with major advertisers, according to Brian Wieser, global president of GroupM, a media investment company.
“If this thing gets created, the content would look a lot like OANN or RT or Fox primetime and you wouldn’t have advertisers who would want to associate themselves with it,” Wieser said. “It’s hard to make an ad-supported business with something that is inherently polarized. Fox News is a bit different because when it started you could’ve argued that it was more right of center, but not in a polarizing way and it was at a time when cable operators were happy to take on new networks. You can’t replicate that right now.”
Wieser added that if Trump creates an independent media venture, it’ll likely be supported by a subscription model.
“Other monetization models include subscriptions,” Wieser said. “Alex Jones uses his platform to sell products such as supplements and there could also be foreign benefactors, such as how Russia pays for RT, but subscriber revenues would be the main one.”