In the span of days, Newsmax has successfully turned a standard fee dispute with a pay-TV provider into a political football, convincing Congress to threaten DirecTV with hearings for dropping the pro-Trump network.
Since the satellite carrier pulled Newsmax from its lineup last week, the channel has flooded its airwaves with anti-DirecTV rants accusing the company and its corporate partner AT&T of “political discrimination” against conservatives while urging viewers to cancel the companies’ products.
At the same time, Newsmax has relentlessly aired a series of spurious claims about the remaining content on DirecTV’s lineup, repeatedly insisting that the provider is paying “22 liberal news channels” while refusing to offer any license fees to Newsmax. Asserting that it’s the “fourth highest-rated cable news network” in America, the channel has also groused that its viewership dwarfs “most” of these nearly two dozen left-leaning stations—yet DirecTV will not fairly compensate the right-wing news channel.
Much of what’s been said by Newsmax about the failed DirecTV deal, which has been parroted by Republicans on Capitol Hill, ranges from misleading to outright false.
The full-court press has worked with the GOP, who had already promised to hold investigations into anti-conservative bias in media and Big Tech even before winning a slim majority in the House last year. Days after House Republicans pressured DirecTV to pay Newsmax “fair and equitable” fees while accusing the company of “colluding” with Democrats to censor conservative speech, their colleagues in the Senate followed suit.
“The silencing of conservative speech at the request of government officials is a direct assault on free speech and a threat to democracy,” the letter, written by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and three other senators, reads.
Additionally, the lawmakers’ warnings to DirecTV have echoed many of the same claims Newsmax and its CEO Chris Ruddy have made over and over again.“It has been alleged that DirecTV pays substantial sums to numerous channels that are politically left-of-center, even when those channels have substantially lower ratings than Newsmax,” the senators told the pay-TV carrier this week. “And, it has been alleged that DirecTV refused to pay any net sums whatsoever to Newsmax—and expressly stated that it never would pay any net sums to Newsmax—even though explicitly liberal stations with substantially fewer viewers were receiving millions of dollars from DirecTV.”
While DirecTV has yet to issue a formal response to this latest missive from the GOP, a company spokesperson gave the following statement to The Daily Beast: “We take the concerns raised by these elected officials seriously, and in our response to the letter, we plan to detail the facts behind our business decision being based on financial terms and not ideology. We continue to offer our customers a balanced mix of 24-hour news channels as part of a diversified programming lineup.”
As for the allegations Newsmax and Republicans have made about DirecTV and its remaining channels, let’s take a look at the facts.
Does DirecTV Air ‘22 Liberal News’ Channels?
Short answer: No. Since DirecTV removed Newsmax from its service last Wednesday, Newsmax has aired nearly 200 segments in which the hosts—seemingly all reading from the same script—have bemoaned that the provider is “keeping 22 liberal news channels that cost you much more than Newsmax does, and they also have lower ratings.”
But what, exactly, are these low-rated left-leaning news networks that DirecTV is unfairly paying carriage fees to while refusing to give Newsmax a penny to air its content?
Thankfully, Newsmax has already provided that list—and it’s a doozy.
According to the network, DirecTV’s “liberal news channels” include (among others) broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC, PBS, The Weather Channel, Vice TV, BBC, CNN, Newsnation, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Telemundo, Univision, and niche stations Comedy.TV and Justice Central.
““Newsmax believes it was clearly discriminated against.” ”
While channels like Vice, PBS, Spanish-language networks, and the major broadcasters air nightly news programs, they would hardly be described as “news channels.” Furthermore, describing specialty offerings like Justice Central (which just airs blocks of first-run courtroom shows in the same vein as The People’s Court) as a news network is downright insulting.
In terms of 24-hour cable news channels that could be seen as similar to Newsmax, the following apply from the network’s list: CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Newsnation, Cheddar, CNN International, CNBC World, BBC World News and CNN en Espanol.
Now, are all of these channels considered liberal? While that is purely subjective, Newsmax has backed its claim by pointing to a 2019 poll that found a majority of Americans believed that all network news channels leaned to the left. Therefore, per the network, that means that The Weather Channel and a channel that airs stand-up comic performances must be part of the liberal news establishment.
Does DirecTV Pay These ‘22 Liberal News’ Channels?
Short answer: It’s complicated.
Newsmax claims that these “liberal news channels” that it has identified all get paid “millions of dollars” by DirecTV, suggesting that this shows that the company is doing the bidding of Democrats to silence right-wing voices. They’ve also pointed to DirecTV’s decision to drop little-watched conspiracy network One America News last year as further proof of this sinister anti-conservative plot. They haven’t similarly complained, however, about Verizon FIOS doing the same thing to OAN—perhaps due to Newsmax reaching an agreement with the cable TV provider.
This strikes at the very heart of the dispute between DirecTV and Newsmax. DirecTV, much like other multichannel video programming distributors, has seen its subscriber base plummet in recent years due to cord-cutting, reduced television revenue, and free TV and streaming options. Newsmax, which had been with DirecTV since the channel’s launch in 2014, was never paid license fees by the carrier during its tenure. Instead, the pay-TV company claimed it provided the channel—which didn’t gain a substantial viewership until late-2020—a platform to build its advertising revenue base. DirecTV balked after the channel asked for a carriage fee equating to roughly $1 a subscriber, stating that Newsmax streams its content for free on various other platforms such as Roku, as well as its own app.
Stations that offer their services to viewers for free via streaming are known as FAST channels, which stands for “free, ad-supported television.” In the ever-evolving world of expanding content and countless viewer options, various platforms such as Roku, Pluto TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Freevee have become landing places for these channels—offering customers a plethora of free content.
Newsmax, which has long been available for free on some of these streamers and devices, has claimed that DirecTV is “fully aware” that their free streaming option will eventually end this year and other operators are not currently paying for the network’s content until that occurs.
Meanwhile, a few of the “liberal news” networks that Newsmax has accused DirecTV of paying license fees to are considered FAST channels, such as Cheddar and The Grio. Another channel, Bloomberg TV, was briefly dropped by DirecTV in late 2021 after both sides were unable to come to an agreement on a contract renewal. Since returning to DirecTV airwaves, Bloomberg TV is now offered on free platforms such as Roku.
DirecTV, citing non-disclosure clauses related to their contracts with other channels, would not comment as to whether these channels are paid by the company. However, its stance on FAST channels would suggest they are aired without license fees. Additionally, the company just replaced Newsmax with right-wing network The First, a FAST channel that DirecTV noted is airing for free on its services.
Newsmax and Republicans have also focused a lot of energy on DirecTV paying carriage fees to Vice TV, despite its lower ratings than Newsmax and supposed liberal bent. Vice TV, much like many channels, is actually part of a bundle of stations that DirecTV pays one flat fee to air.
The channel is part of A&E Networks, which also includes The History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime. Ironically, these channels were part of an “opt-in” program by DirecTV that was meant to save on carriage fees, as the satellite carrier removed their programming from lineups if subscribers weren’t watching them.
In fact, a number of the channels included in Newsmax’s list are part of bundled packages. For instance, Allen Media Group owns The Weather Channel, Comedy.TV and Justice Central TV, explaining why DirecTV offers up all of those networks.
Representatives for the channels listed either did not respond to comment or declined to discuss with The Daily Beast, citing confidentiality of contract terms.
Asked to explain how the network knew that all of these channels were paid by DirecTV, a Newsmax representative pointed to analysis made by a media and communications firm.
“Newsmax believes it was clearly discriminated against. Despite being the 4th highest-rated cable news channel, DirecTV said we would never be eligible for a cable license fee,” the spokesman said. “We identified 22 other cable news channels and all get fees, according to SNL Kagan, even ones with far less ratings than Newsmax.”
Is Newsmax the Fourth-Highest-Rated Cable News Network?
Short answer: Yes, but not according to its own designation.
When including just CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Newsnation and a host of other 24-7 news channels, Newsmax currently ranks a distant fourth to the Big Three cable news networks.
However, due to the fact that it is now claiming that DirecTV airs “22 liberal news channels,” its ratings pale compared to many of those other networks.
Just using the stations on the list that Newsmax is citing, Newsmax would rank 12th. If you add Fox News and FOX, which would qualify based on Newsmax’s broad definition of “news” networks, then the MAGA cable channel drops to 14th.
According to Nielsen, Newsmax’s average daily household audience last year was 101,343, placing it behind networks such as CNBC (which itself could be considered “cable news” rather than just “business”), The Weather Channel, HLN (which has foregone original news programming).Furthermore, the major broadcast networks—which Newsmax has lumped in with other “low-rated” liberal channels—attract viewerships anywhere from 12 to 21 times as much as Newsmax.