Tucker Carlson’s New Twitter Show Could Be a Moneymaker – or Just a Noisemaker
Tucker Carlson announced plans Tuesday to bring a version of his long-running Fox News show to Twitter, following his contentious departure from the network. In doing so, he’s forgoing $25 million reportedly due under his contract if he adhered to a noncompete clause.
But is there a world where Carlson can make a Twitter show profitable enough to match that $25 million? Or is the new show simply an effort to keep the media personality front and center in people’s minds?
Twitter owner Elon Musk has made it clear his company hasn’t made any special deals with Carlson, meaning we can rule out preferential treatment there — though Musk is known for often changing the rules of the game on the fly and making special accommodations for favored users.
We’re back. pic.twitter.com/sG5t9gr60O
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) May 9, 2023
One way Carlson could make money is through subscriptions. In 2021, Twitter introduced a feature called Super Follows, which allowed high-powered Twitter users to charge subscribers for access to certain tweets. In April, Musk renamed the feature to the simpler “Subscriptions.”
The subscription feature could let Carlson “far surpass his earning potential on Fox given his loyal fan base,” said Aaron Rafferty, the co-founder of BattlePACs, which operates online discussion forums for politically minded youth.
Here’s some speculative math: Carlson has 7.3 million followers on Twitter. If even 5% of those followers signed up — a fraction of Carlson’s prime-time audience — for a $5 a month subscription, that’s $21.9 million a year. Twitter takes 20% of subscription revenue once it crosses $50,000, so Carlson would in theory get $17.5 million a year and Twitter $4.4 million if he hit 730,000 paying subscribers.
Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, thought Carlson might take a different approach. On the “Megyn Kelly Show” Wednesday, she suggested Carlson would use Twitter to drive viewers to his website and turn that into a subscription service. That would allow him to keep an even bigger share of the revenue, though he would face higher operating costs to run and market the service directly. Kelly also said that Carlson using Twitter was “smart because Twitter’s better than ever.”
A profitable proposition
Other avenues of monetization include video ads — where Twitter also splits revenue with publishers — as well as more creative sponsorships like product placements. Advertising has been a tricky area for Twitter since Musk took over and shook up the service, with some companies withdrawing spending while waiting to see how his changes play out. But advertisers more or less know the audience they’re getting with the former Fox News host, and his team could easily court the same companies that bought commercials on his Fox show.
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Twitter’s Tips system could also generate revenue for the media personality from viewers who don’t want to commit to a subscription but are fans of Carlson’s take on the news. Carlson already sells clothing, playing cards and other merchandise from an online store, including $25 “Lord Fauci Patron Saint of Wuhan” mugs. He could easily lean more on e-commerce to support his internet broadcasts.
For love (of attention) or money?
It’s not clear, though, that Carlson signed up with Twitter for economic reasons. He’s already wealthy, for one, after years of pulling in a reported $20 million a year salary at Fox.
He also has a range of options for making money from his sizable audience, including Rumble, a YouTube alternative that caters to right-wing audiences.
“I’m sure he’s doing it for money as well as control, although I’ve heard that Rumble offered him a considerable sum to come there,” said Baruch Labunski, CEO at Rank Secure and a digital marketing expert versed in the specificities of online business promotion and social strategies. “That is probably more than he could make on Twitter so it isn’t likely all about money as it is about long-term strategy.”
Rumble’s stock temporarily fell 12% Tuesday after Carlson announced plans to broadcast on Twitter, apparently because investors worried that the company would face stiffer competition to attract people to its service. Rumble didn’t respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
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Labunski stressed the importance of sponsorships and merchandise, pointing out the parallels with Bill O’Reilly’s post-Fox career. O’Reilly made a winning formula of his situation, using speaking appearances, books, merchandise sales and a host of other opportunities to maximize his earnings potential.
Business owner and seasoned financial strategist Terry Sawchuk, CEO of Sawchuk Wealth, offered another theory as to why Carlson’s gone the route he has.
“My guess is there will be some decent money in this for him on an interim basis, but probably not what he could have had with Fox or another major media outlet,” Sawchuk said. “I fundamentally believe he is trying to make a difference and has had it with being censored or at least dealing with the attempts at it, and that he wants to effect change.”
Sawchuk speculated that regardless of the freedom a Twitter show afforded Carlson, it felt like a stopgap measure and that bigger opportunities would likely be coming up.
To note, Carlson and Musk have frequently placed an emphasis on recognizing freedom of speech. In Tucker’s own announcement of his Twitter show, he stated, “Free speech is the main right that you have. Without it, you have no others.” Shortly before announcing plans to buy Twitter last year, Musk suggested that Twitter management wasn’t “rigorously” adhering to free-speech principles.
Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy.
Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2022
Free to be T.C.
Freedom was a consideration Ray Wang, the principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research, a Silicon Valley firm that helps businesses use technology, brought up as well.
“Tucker is doing it because it’s one of the last channels for freedom of speech, not controlled by the media types,” Wang said. “I’m not sure it’ll match the payouts at Fox, but what it will do is bring conservatives back to Twitter and help Elon make the case for a ‘free speech’ platform.”
In short, Carlson could be attracted to Twitter for a number of reasons. Subscriptions offer a fairly direct way of monetizing his audience, as do ads placed in videos he posts. But he could also want to make Twitter his primary online presence because of its wide reach among the political and media set. Other media personalities who have struck out on their own, like O’Reilly, have shown ways to make even more as independent brands than they did on a conventional network.
Whatever Carlson’s reasons, it’s a big win for Musk, who could benefit financially from taking a cut of Carlson’s earnings and also win some of the credibility Carlson lends Twitter among his viewers. The move would help establish Twitter as a place where shows are not only hosted but championed, with Musk’s personal support counting for a lot.
The only problem for Carlson in betting on Twitter: Musk has a reputation for courting journalists and then souring on them, as Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi discovered after the Twitter owner shared corporate files with them, expecting them to produce reports that flattered Musk and cast aspersions on prior Twitter management. Musk split with Weiss after she opposed a decision he made to ban some journalists, and with Taibbi after he adopted a competing service from email newsletter publisher Substack.
Carlson didn’t respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
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