DirecTV’s decision this week to drop Newsmax is the latest blow to a handful of conservative media outlets that have sought to carve out a space for themselves in the wake of former President Trump’s election loss in 2020.
While the far-right ecosystem has exploded over the decision, with figures including Trump accusing DirecTV of political bias, media experts say Newsmax is simply seeking to bolster its bargaining power as it struggles with low ratings.
“This is no different than the contract disputes that arise every few years between sports channels and DirecTV, Comcast, etc.,” said Dave Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.
“They’re fighting over fee structures. Negotiations broke down. Newsmax is trying to expand the conflict, in the hopes that viewer outrage and a few letters on congressional stationery will strengthen their negotiating position.”
For years, Fox News has served as the top dog in conservative cable news, commanding an audience of more than a million people per day on average last year. Smaller, less-watched networks like Newsmax and One America News (OAN) that cater to a conservative audience experienced a bump after Trump promoted them to his supporters in the days after the election.
Today, those channels are jockeying to stay relevant without Trump in office, while competition for viewership across cable news more generally is growing increasingly fierce with more Americans dropping their cable subscriptions.
Newsmax pulled in an average of less than 150,000 total day viewers in 2022, compared to the average 1.4 million people who watched Fox News, 733,000 who watched MSNBC and 568,000 who watched CNN.
The breakdown between Newsmax and DirecTV this week hinged on carrier fees, which DirecTV pays to broadcast various networks, including prominent cable news channels like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.
Under its previous agreement with Newsmax, which has an audience that is dwarfed by other leading cable news channels, DirecTV paid no carrier fees.
Newsmax contends DirecTV’s decision is based on political bias and has used the episode to renew claims of censorship against conservatives in the media, a line of attack peddled by Republicans for years.
“This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax,” the network’s CEO, Chris Ruddy, said this week. “The most extreme liberal channels, even with tiny ratings, get fees from AT&T’s DirecTV, but Newsmax and OAN need to be deplatformed.”
DirecTV, in a statement to The Hill, said it “made it clear to Newsmax that we wanted to continue to offer the network,” but ultimately the network’s demands for rate increases “would have led to significantly higher costs that we would have to pass on to our broad customer base.”
It added that it would “fill this available channel with new content” and on Thursday announced the addition of conservative opinion and commentary network The First to its lineup.
Newsmax isn’t the only smaller conservative cable network to find itself left out in the cold by cable providers.
Last year, DirecTV and Verizon ended their contracts with the San Diego-based OAN following an aggressive pressure campaign from critics who argued the content on OAN was harmful. Newsmax remains on a number of other cable providers.
“Corporations don’t want to pay money for content that is not of value to them and it’s in Newsmax’s interest to create a lot of Sturm und Drang around this,” said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog that has been involved in extensive pressure campaigns to get conservative networks taken off the air.
“That there’s some sort of political censorship going on, because that’s a much better story to tell their viewers … rather than acknowledging that their product is not worth enough to this carrier for them to distribute it.”
Hosts on Newsmax, several of whom are longtime allies of Trump, are expressing outrage about the expiration of the agreement with DirecTV and have urged viewers to lobby their elected officials to investigate the matter.
“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. You can also cancel their services outright,” Newsmax host Rob Finnerty said on his show this week.
Trump himself has panned the cable provider’s move and is using it in his political messaging ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
“The Radical Left seems to have taken over the mind and soul of AT&T. This is a big blow to the Republican Party, and to America itself,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social. “For DIRECTV to drop very popular NEWSMAX, without explanation, will not be accepted. I, for one, will be dropping all association with AT&T and DIRECTV, and I have plenty. This is just one of many reasons why we must WIN IN 2024!!!”
Newsmax has found support on Capitol Hill amid its ongoing fight with DirecTV.
In a letter sent last week, a group of several dozen House Republicans, led by Rep. Wesley Hunt (Texas), sent a letter to DirecTV threatening to investigate its decision to allow the contract to expire.
“This is extremely concerning for Members of Congress because it suppresses political discourse and hamstrings our ability to connect with our constituents,” the Republicans wrote in their letter.
“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.”
Yet some media and political observers say those claims don’t hold up.
“Claims that DirecTV’s position is political bias are ridiculous. This is a business decision. Newsmax scores only a fraction of the audience that Fox News and CNN draw at any hour of the day,” said Joe Peyronnin, a former broadcast news executive.
“If Newsmax wants to be paid, it should provide viewers more engaging, relevant and compelling content.”