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A litany of advertisers bought ad space on upstart news channel GB News upon its launch at 8pm on Sunday June 13, trying out the media in the face of a momentous boycott fuelled by activists worried hate speech had a home on the channel. 

Now that a sizeable audience has had a taste of GB News' ‘anti-woke’ talking points, The Drum explores what advertisers bought into the project – and wonders whether they are there to stay. 

Launch

Firstly, a review of the launch.

The Telegraph, with pulled punches, didn’t exactly take a shine to the broadcast: “Frankly, the sound was often out of sync, one presenter suffered a microphone failure, Sir Alan Sugar disappeared one word into his interview and the sets looked as if they had been hastily cobbled together (which, of course, they have been).”

It granted the launch four out of five stars, tempered by its potential and the entertainment of its rough edges. The broadcaster clearly has a lot of work to do to reach the standards of the world-leading news organizations it is purporting to combat, but on paper, it has the potential to make an impact. 

Can GB News sustain audiences by pleasing its base and inflaming its boycotters, one wonders? Adam Sherwin, arts and media correspondent at The i, said: “It could become essential viewing for those who both love and hate its agenda.”

GB News estimates a potential reach of 96% of British households via Sky, Freeview, Virgin, and more, and looks to have secured a bedrock of advertisers to keep the lights on – at least for the immediate future. 

Advertisers

GB News has grappled with an ad boycott for months from Stop Funding Hate, which is urging marketers to consider whether they want to back the channel that could be the UK's version of Fox News - its leaders claim they've no intention of emulating the US broadcaster, The Telegraph says it should at least learn from its 'glossiness'.

It comes as the ad-funded news business faces many changes, but faced an uphill struggle to convince advertisers before it had even launched that its output would not clash with their corporate stances. 

However, Stop Funding Hate has warned: “If your company buys programmatic advertising from Sky Media, it may be worth checking with them about the risk of your brand ending up on GB News.”

Sky Media, one of the UK’s biggest ad sales houses, is handling linear ad sales and exploring ‘innovative partnerships’. Press Gazette claims Octopus Energy, Ikea, Deliveroo, Starbucks, Bosch, Co-op and WWF were on board for the launch. At 11.20am Monday June 14, Trivago, Flawless hair removal kit, TalkTalk and Age Partnership were four advertisers making up a short break. The next boasted Bupa, the People’s Postcode Lottery, Green Flag and Grolsch.

Stop Funding Hate has accumulated a long-list of advertisers that includes Vodafone, Octopus Energy, Ovo Energy, Co-op, Ikea, LV, Virgin Media, Kellogg’s, Deliveroo, Nivea, Kenco coffee, AA, Premier Inn, American Express, Johnson and Johnson, Wickes, Starbucks, Weetabix, Pfizer, National Lottery, Boomin, Cadbury, Taylors of Harrogate coffee, Amazon, Cazoo, Microsoft, Google, Alpen (Weetabix), Beko Harvestfresh, Pinterest, Ladbrokes and Rana pasta. It is clear the Sky Media partnership has brought in top brands, though there are few notable absences. 

Many may review their buys after Nigel Farage’s appearance a mere two hours after Andrew Neil’s intro speech arguably undermined his promise to offer the British public something different, detached from the metropolitan elite. Or Dan Wooton pushing the limits in a tirade against Covid-19 restrictions, accusing the UK of becoming a “bio-security state copying China” - his first monologue which many already attract Ofcom complaints. 

One advertiser has responded to criticisms. Octopus Energy founder Greg Jackson tweeted: “Octopus Energy recent commitments: £10,000,000 to build a decarb of heat R&D centre, £5,000,000 to establish the Centre for Net Zero, £108,000 to its BLM fund, £1,000 ad on a right-wing channel. So, 15,108x more on progressive stuff. More soon, but hope perspective helps.”

His willingness to respond to hundreds of disappointed tweets priced his media buy at £1,000. While Sky Media refused to comment on its GB News packages, it is clear it has had a lot of buy-in from partners. But were they always aware what media they were getting? 

Cider brand Kopparberg claims ignorance when faced with criticism. It tweeted: "We want to make it clear to everyone that our ad ran on this channel without our knowledge or consent. Kopparberg is a drink for everyone and we have immediately suspended our ads from this channel pending further review of its content."

Some respondents to the tweet were incredulous a brand could lose track of such a buy, unaware a lot of these decisions are automated and/or handled by third parties. Buyers shouldn't be missing the potential flare-ups around a channel we've been debating months before launch. 

Despite a rocky launch, GB News cites Barb data and says its 164,400 viewers were higher than BBC News’s 133,000 and Sky News’s 57,000. In the coming months, we’ll see how that audience will sustain, and whether the hate-viewers and boycotters constitute a significant mass. Furthermore, will the new channel be able to air strong opinions without invoking the ire of Ofcom and advertisers? 

Additional reporting from Chris Sutcliffe.