The possibility that Glenn Beck will exit the Fox News Channel at the end of the year has prompted a big question in media circles: if he leaves, how will he bring his considerable audience with him?
Two of the options Mr. Beck has contemplated, according to people who have spoken about it with him, are a partial or wholesale takeover of a cable channel, or an expansion of his subscription video service on the Web.
Reports this week that Joel Cheatwood, a senior Fox News executive, would soon join Mr. Beck’s growing media company, Mercury Radio Arts, were the latest indication that Mr. Beck intended to leave Fox, a unit of the News Corporation, when his contract expired at the end of this year.
Notably, Mr. Beck’s company has been staffing up – making Web shows, some of which have little or nothing to do with Mr. Beck, and charging a monthly subscription for access to the shows.
Were Mr. Beck to set off on his own, it would be a landmark moment for the media industry, reflecting a shift in the balance of power between media institutions and the personal brands of people they employ.
Mr. Beck, a conservative who often comes under criticism for his attacks on progressives and apocalyptic predictions, hosts a syndicated radio show in the morning and a Fox News show in the afternoon.
He has a “passionate media brand with a clear point of view,” said Larry Kramer, a media consultant and the author of “C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today.” Mr. Kramer compared Mr. Beck to Arianna Huffington and Howard Stern, two people who have spun their personalities into media empires.
It is possible that Mr. Beck and Fox could agree to a new contract. But his relationship with the channel has been fraught from its earliest days in 2009, and lately both sides have been anonymously sniping at the other.
Asked on Tuesday whether Fox News intends to renew his contract, a Fox spokeswoman said, “it’s not up until December” and declined to comment further.
Mr. Beck declined an interview request about his future plans, but through a spokesman, he provided a statement. “Roger Ailes has built the most important voice in America today – Fox News – and it is an honor to do my show there every night,” he stated. “I have no intention whatsoever of doing the show I am doing now on Fox anywhere else.”
Mr. Beck has been contemplating a cable channel of his own for more than a year, according to the people who have spoken with him about it, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mr. Beck may not be able to actively pursue such an arrangement until his Fox contract is up.
Presuming he leaves, Mr. Beck could follow a road paved by Oprah Winfrey when she started OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network in January. He could schedule his own talk show and the shows of others on one of the many cable channels seeking a ratings jolt. Or, following Martha Stewart’s road to the Hallmark Channel, he could start smaller, taking over a few hours of a channel’s schedule.
But a cable channel takeover, even in part, carries enormous risk, as Ms. Winfrey and Ms. Stewart can attest – they have more real estate now, but the ratings comparisons are not favorable. For Mr. Beck, the risk may be heightened by the fact that many advertisers have shunned him on Fox, in part because of a boycott that started after he called President Obama racist in 2009.
Furthermore, having cable channel turf may carry less importance in the future as more people access TV shows online.
Mr. Beck’s other option is to expand Insider Extreme, the subscription portion of his Web site, glennbeck.com, by hosting an exclusive show there and by adding other content.
Insider Extreme already simulcasts Mr. Beck’s three-hour radio show; shows a fourth hour hosted by his sidekicks; shows a daily show hosted by S. E. Cupp, a conservative commentator; and occasionally features documentaries.
Mr. Beck is also in business with Dr. Keith Ablow, a well-known psychiatrist; they sometimes co-host free webcasts.
Mercury Radio Arts, which is privately held, has not released any figures for the $9.95 subscription service. Last April, one month after Insider Extreme started, Forbes magazine estimated that the Web operations earned Mr. Beck $4 million a year, twice as much as the $2 million he earned from Fox.
On the Web, unlike on television, Mr. Beck owns the data about his subscribers.
People who have spoken to Mr. Beck say that neither option – a cable channel or what would essentially be an Internet channel – would be aimed at competing with Fox News, which is enormously popular on cable. Rather, it would try to extract more value out of Mr. Beck’s loyal fans. The comparison to Mr. Stern may be apt: his audience on satellite radio is smaller than it was on terrestrial radio, but the profits are higher.
Already, some of Mr. Beck’s fans have followed him to a news and opinion Web site, theblaze.com, and to stage shows.
Mr. Kramer noted that Mr. Beck did not necessarily have to choose between cable and the Internet – he could come up with “some form of hybrid.” That’s how Ms. Winfrey formed OWN – she contributed Oprah.com while her partner contributed the cable channel space. But Mr. Kramer cautioned, Mr. Beck is “not Oprah yet.”