Newsmax hosts on Wednesday urged viewers to call members of Congress and “demand they investigate AT&T and DirecTV for potential discrimination against conservative media” following DirecTV’s cancellation of the pro-Trump network.
The network’s anchors appeared to all be reading from the same script during these segments, echoing the conservative outlet’s online reaction to the cable provider’s decision to drop Newsmax after renewal negotiations stalled. The previous deal expired at midnight on Wednesday, resulting in DirecTV pulling the channel from its lineup.
“If you are a DirecTV customer or even an AT&T customer of their products, like a cellphone, you can call them and ask them to oppose woke companies,” anchor Rob Finnerty, for instance, bellowed on Wednesday morning. “You can also cancel their services outright. You have many options where Newsmax is carried, you can also get our free app.”
AT&T owns 70 percent of DirecTV, with the other 30 percent of the company held by TPG Capital. Along with its majority owner, DirecTV has come under fire from conservatives since the carrier removed little-watched conspiracy channel One America News from its service last year.
After calling on Newsmax’s audience to drop AT&T products, Finnerty then begged them to call Congress and push for government intervention. The network aired graphics with a URL and text message destinations where viewers could make it known that DirecTV should change its mind.
“Second, we are urging you to call your congressman and senator today and demand they investigate AT&T and DirecTV for their discrimination against conservative media,” Finnerty declared.
By early Wednesday afternoon, Newsmax anchors John Bachman, Bianca de la Garza, Shaun Kraisman, and Bob Sellers had also read the prepared monologue on air.
This ploy somewhat parallels OAN’s attempts to seek revenge on DirecTV after its own removal. At one point, One America News host Dan Ball urged viewers to dig up “dirt” on AT&T’s chairman.
Dozens of House Republicans have already taken on the fight against DirecTV on behalf of Newsmax. Days before the contract expired, Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-TX)—a frequent Newsmax guest—wrote a letter to the provider and its corporate parents pressuring them to meet the network’s terms.
Citing the cancellation of OAN, Hunt alleged DirecTV was colluding with Democrats to “de-monetize” conservative media outlets and was “moving to de-platform Newsmax by denying it cable fees on a fair and equitable basis.” The letter, which was co-signed by 41 Republicans, also took issue with DirecTV paying carriage fees to lesser-watched “liberal” channels, specifically singling out Vice TV (which is not a news network).
“If Newsmax is removed from DIRECTV, in less than a year House Republicans will have lost two of the three cable news channels that reach conservative voters on a platform that primarily serves conservative-leaning areas of the country,” Hunt’s letter stated, warning that DirecTV could face congressional investigations.
At the heart of the dispute between DirecTV and the right-wing cable channel is, of course, money. Since Newsmax’s launch in 2014, DirecTV—which currently boasts 13.5 million subscribers—has carried the channel without having to pay the network any license fees. This is a standard deal between pay-TV providers and fledgling channels looking to build up their audience.
“On multiple occasions, we made it clear to Newsmax that we wanted to continue to offer the network, but ultimately Newsmax’s demands for rate increases would have led to significantly higher costs that we would have to pass on to our broad customer base,” a DirecTV spokesman told The Daily Beast.
Additionally, DirecTV has noted that Newsmax currently offers its on-air content free of charge to tens of millions of households via its app, YouTube, and various over-the-top platforms, wondering why it should pay the network any carriage fees. The company has added that it would be happy to carry Newsmax under the current agreement, which also provides the channel with additional advertising time slots.
Newsmax, whose recent renewals with cable providers include fee agreements, argues that “no operator pays a fee while Newsmax streams free.” The network has also said that it will be sunsetting its free stream in the coming months. Perhaps inadvertently, Finnerty seemed to make much of DirecTV’s case on Wednesday morning, telling viewers to download the channel’s “totally free” app so that they “can watch us for free.”
Struggling to gain any significant viewership in the first few years of its existence, Newsmax experienced a sudden ratings surge after the 2020 elections, appealing to disgruntled MAGA fans angry over Fox News’ Arizona election night call for Biden. Touting former President Donald Trump’s support of the network, Newsmax has aired his rallies live and uninterrupted.
While the network’s viewership has since fallen dramatically, it is still much higher than its pre-2020 levels. In Q4 2022, the channel averaged 113,000 total viewers and 170,000 in primetime. And while the network touts itself as the fourth most-watched cable news channel, it only attracts a tiny fraction of Fox News’ audience and is far behind CNN and MSNBC.
“DirecTV carries 22 liberal or liberal-leaning channels, all of whom get fees. DirecTV believes only one conservative channel should get a fee,” Newsmax complained in a statement after DirecTV dropped the channel.
Pushing back against accusations that it is “censoring” Newsmax for partisan reasons, the provider has pointed to the increasingly difficult environment for pay-TV services and Newsmax’s relatively small audience as the primary factors it isn’t willing to pay to carry the channel.
“We think that it is also important to keep our dispute with Newsmax in perspective. According to Nielsen, nationwide Newsmax’s average household audience is only 101,000 households, representing less than 0.1% of total TV households,” DirecTV general counsel Michael Hartman wrote in a letter to Hunt. “That is 92% lower than Fox News. If Newsmax ceases to authorize our carriage of their channel, our customers will still have access to their clearly preferred conservative news channel, Fox News, which has more viewers than MSNBC, CNN and Newsmax combined.”
Hartman also mocked the notion that DirecTV was “de-platforming” the channel, noting that Newsmax has already promised to eliminate their free streaming service in order to receive fees from cable providers.
“In other words, 55 million US households would no longer be able to access Newsmax in its current form unless they acquire a Pay TV subscription,” Hartman stated. “Under this change in model, who’s doing the de-platforming? Certainly not DirecTV.”