Tucker Carlson is Moving His Show To Twitter. Here's Why That Matters.
In a video announcement today, former #1 Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that he’s going to be “bringing a new version of the show we’ve been doing for the past six-and-a-half years to Twitter.”
After discussing the limits that everyone in the English-speaking media world have to work within to avoid touching on the wrong topics and getting themselves fired, Tucker went on to explain the importance of Free Speech as a fundamental prerequisite for democracy.
“Amazingly, as of tonight,” he says, “there aren’t many platforms left that allow free speech. The last big one remaining in the world — the only one — is Twitter.”
I’ve been a Twitter user since September of 2008. Almost 15 years. At first, I didn’t understand it. Over time, as I’ve written about here before, I came to see it as a completely unique and powerful platform, unlike anything I’ve experienced since I first signed up for the Internet in the early 90s.
And I agree that since Elon Musk has taken over, it’s one of the last bastions of free speech in the online public square - even with the the occasional residual algorithmic Orwellianism. I consider these a hangover of the days before the site transitioned to new ownership.
Now, whatever you think of Carlson, his stint on Fox showed him to be a force to be reckoned with, averaging over 3 million views per night last year and ranking as the second-most-watched program on cable television. His unconventional takes on everything from Trumpian claims of election fraud (he openly questioned the lack of evidence from “stop the steal” figureheads like Sidney Powell) to COVID to the Ukraine War to UFOs made him something of a maverick among talking heads. Many saw him as an unexpected breath of fresh air, giving voice to what the common man was thinking but did not see represented in other quarters of the media. (His approach was certainly a departure from those who remember him as a smug, bowtie-wearing douchebag on CNN’s Crossfire.)
Carlson’s feud with Fox News, which has mostly been hidden behind legally-appropriate silence and polite niceties, looks like it’s about to take a turn into a full-blown war. According to news website Axios:
Tucker Carlson, two weeks after being ousted by Fox News, accused the network Tuesday of fraud and breach of contract — and made a host of document demands that could precede legal action.
Why it matters: The aggressive letter from his lawyers to Fox positions Carlson to argue that the noncompete provision in his contract is no longer valid — freeing him to launch his own competing show or media enterprise.
The intrigue: The Twitter move would seem to technically violate Carlson's contract with Fox, but his lawyers' letter effectively holds that Fox breached the contract first.
The details are here if you want them. I don’t want to stray too far into these particular weeds.
What I do want to offer is my take on why this move is so significant.
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Under Musk’s leadership, Twitter is evolving into something more than what it was before he acquired the social media platform in a $44 billion dollar deal and took the company private.
Last month, Musk opened paid subscriptions to Twitter content. He has also allowed long-form text (up to 10,000 characters) and “hours long video” for users of the paid Twitter Blue service.
In other words, he is turning Twitter into a full-fledged, monetizable content platform that will eventually compete even with big video services like YouTube. I’m already seeing podcasters talking about opportunities there.
When a big fish like Carlson adopts a platform like Twitter that is relatively untested in the video content space, and does so under the auspices of a subscription service that is just rolling out, that’s a potential game changer. It’s going to test the limits of what the service is capable of, and considering Twitter’s reach, especially among the news-addicted, the sky’s the limit.
When Tucker made his first post-fox appearance in a Twitter video on April 26, he quickly rocketed past his 2022 average of 3 million views per show to a whopping 16 million on that video - the first day. That video now stands at 24.2 million views, embedded in a tweet that’s been seen 84 million times. (Not everyone who sees the tweet watches the video; it’s still a little unclear exactly how Twitter counts these different stats.)
Today’s video already has 4.7 million views, and it’s only a few hours old. Tucker’s account has 7 million followers. If only a quarter of those followers become subscribers at, say, $5 a month, that’s $8.75 million dollars of monthly revenue — $105 million annually. Carlson, who was bringing in a reported $35 million annually with Fox — making him the highest paid cable news personality in the world — would leave his previous earnings in the dust. And he’d be accountable only to subscribers. Not to advertisers, not to Rupert Murdoch, not to corporate lawyers, just to subscribers and the Twitter terms of service.
In the public relations world, we used to refer to this kind of disruptive capacity as “asymmetrical warfare.” It’s not entirely dissimilar to how a bunch of modern-day cave men with old Russian weapons (aka, the Taliban) were able to hold off the most powerful military in the world for years in the mountains of Afghanistan. Conventional powers — and conventional gatekeepers — no longer control the board.
It was a very big deal when Joe Rogan got offered $100 million — “fuck you money,” as he likes to call it — to move his podcast exclusively to Spotify. But Carlson could potentially haul in something similar every year.
And when he does, every single major content creator with an audience is going to notice. Many are going to follow suit. And they, too, will be free from the imposed constraints of moneyed interests who want them to steer clear of political or ideological third rails, and YouTube and Facebook are still censoring videos for wrongthink.
This is going to change the information landscape drastically, at a time when the belief that the media is lying to us is growing exponentially, and trust in “experts” and institutions is diminishing dangerously fast.
Interestingly, Elon Musk has already made clear that Carlson chose to make this move independent of any incentive or deal:
We can’t quite see what it means clearly yet, but this is a serious paradigm shift. And it’s another nail in the coffin of cable news as a trusted and influential source of information.