Take Me Out to the Nuthouse

As you’ve probably heard, Glenn Beck is leaving FOX News to spend more time with his tinfoil hats. There was a very interesting article in New York recently about how Beck made everyone at FOX very rich but probably cost the Republicans the next presidential election with his special brand of divisive wing-nuttery. The article basically said his conspiracy theories and apparent belief that he is a vessel for the word of Jebus got so out of hand that even Roger Ailes had enough and told Beck to hit the bricks.

In truth, Glenn Beck won’t be going anywhere. He was already a superstar on talk radio and will remain one. He was already doing sold-out, weepy live events about the fall of America and Christmas sweaters and will presumably continue to do those, too. He’ll even be expanding his empire with a new online endeavor called GBTV. (Yes, that looks very much like it should stand for gay/bi/transgender or something similar, but please, nobody tell him. Let’s just laugh about it behind his back for several years.) It sounds it will be mostly Beck doing a variation on his FOX show for a nominal fee; $4.95/month to watch just his show, $9.95 for the full array of GBTV (teehee) programming.

None of this would be remarkable to me if I didn’t know that GBTV (snicker) will be powered by MLB Advanced Media. Yup, the same outfit responsible for creating online clips of Major League Baseball games (but not responsible for allowing you to embed them anywhere) will now help make sure the special angel-monkeys in Glenn Beck’s brain have their message heard. I can’t see how this makes any sense for MLB, business- or publicity-wise, unless they just want to carry one show worse than Intentional Talk.

Granted, MLB is not the smartest outfit in the world (see: idiotic anti-replay stance, the WBC, the aforementioned refusal to make video clips of their sport embeddable). However, I think even Bud Selig and Co. have to recognize that they’re treading on thin ice here. Getting into bed with a guy like Beck–however tangentially–is virtually guaranteed to bring nothing but trouble.

I’m not saying it’s a risk because Beck is a conservative and I am not. I wouldn’t even call Beck a conservative because he’s anything but. A conservative, by definition, wants to conserve, to keep things the way they are. Beck wants to blow up everything up to and including the Magna Carta. This is not so much a right/left split as it is a crazy/not crazy split.

As I already said, he became so toxic that Roger Ailes–who cut his teeth as Richard Nixon’s media guru, and who can stomach Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity–wants nothing to do with him. As gross and disingenuous as FOX News is, the majority of programming is light years more fair and sane than Glenn Beck. Wal-Mart withdrew sponsorship from Beck’s program when he called President Obama a racist. If any business has the economic and political power to withstand public pressure over such issues, it’s Wal-Mart, and yet even they decided they’d rather not be associated with such a person.

But obviously, there is a sizable segment of the population that likes this guy. Why pass judgment on that, if you’re MLB? Fine, let’s look at this in cold, hard terms. From a pure dollars-and-cents standpoint, there is virtually no way that this GBTV (chortle) venture will become lucrative.

Why? Because if the internet has proven anything…well, I guess the number one thing the internet has proven is that people like porn. But the second biggest thing it’s proven is that nobody wants to pay for something they used to get for free. The Internet Graveyard is filled with the tombs of kooky ranters who captivated audiences on YouTube, then decided to try and monetize their nuttiness and fell off the face of the earth.

Not to mention, GBTV will not be the only way people who like Glenn Beck can get Glenn Beck; he still has his radio show, which costs virtually nothing to listen to. And yet you’re asking people to plunk down as much as 10 bucks a month–more than a basic Netflix subscription–to watch him do a show you used to be able to see for a sliver of your monthly cable bill?

Put it this way: If Howard Stern couldn’t get people to buy satellite radios en masse, Glenn Beck will not get people to pay for internet TV in significant numbers. It doesn’t matter if the fee is relatively affordable; people hate subscriptions. They especially hate them for anything online. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for The New York Times or 24 uninterrupted hours of Bababooey or an internet channel dedicated to hoarding your gold.

When Beck has his inevitable on-air meltdown–not if, but when–it’s going to be carried by the same online engine that brings you clips of America’s pastime. Bud Selig will be praying for the carefree days of the Mitchell Report and failed drug tests when that happens.