As I write this on a Tuesday morning, Facebook is down. The joke going around online is that a massive data harvest went awry as Facebook prepped data for its advertisers and their Black Friday sales.
It’s plausible. We are what we scroll, troll, click and read. We are also naive about how information about us is used. We want to be naive because, for many of us, it’s a matter of being optimistic. The optimism is a tribal trait. People who see themselves as progressive enjoy believing new technology makes things better. Pessimism about change is what defines some other tribe.
Speaking of pessimism, the other day I saw one of the most dismayingly bizarre promotional videos. It features all the familiar figures from Fox News as they cheerfully assemble at a swank lounge to drink, shoot pool and laugh it up. What it promotes is the streaming service Fox Nation, which launches in the United States next week. It’s Fox News on steroids. It’s for Fox News fans or ultra-fans who are willing to pay for it.
The promotional video is eminently mockable. There’s champagne being consumed, although nobody involved seems to know how to pour champagne. People shoot pool and grin at each other. Various Fox News bigwigs, including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, enter the room to be greeted by high-fives and a glass raised in their honour. Nobody looks as though they’re actually having fun, except Hannity.
The entire production is rather like the celebration of a gang or private-member club. You’re invited to join these people at the club and be part of the gang. It will cost US$5.99 a month and you can save bigly by paying US$64.99 for a year.
For this, you get what? Glad you asked. Hannity will have a regular program on the new platform, separate from his weeknight rantings on the cable news service. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy will be host of a cooking show. The co-hosts of The Five will have their own programs – Greg Gutfeld will be host of an interview program called One Smart Person and Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino will be host of a show about her conservative book club. Jesse Watters will be host of a wrapup-of-the-week show. There will be no commercials, freeing the service from the advertiser-boycott campaigns that have plagued Ingraham.
Also, and this should be no surprise, there will be a series called The First Family. It is devoted entirely to the Trump family, and is described on the service’s website as a “beyond the headlines” look at the Trumps. First up is Eric Trump and a promotional video for that episode is already online. It is ecstatically devised propaganda, with soaring, stand-up-and-cheer music and is, one imagines, what’s used to sell Kim Jong-un’s specialness to the people of North Korea daily.
What it’s all about, in the short term, is Trump-ism and specifically Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. Anyone who signs up for Fox Nation is, unlike a TV viewer, providing data to Fox News. Just as Netflix knows what you watch and recommends based on your preferences, Fox Nation will know a lot about its viewers. There is even an attempt to coax clandestine conservatives into the club, with a billboard campaign in major urban areas that asks, “Feeling Left Out?” and inviting such people to subscribe. Might valuable data about such people be used by the Trump campaign? What an innocent question that seems.
Of course, the promotion for Fox Nation is not really inviting people to join a club. It’s inviting people to confirm that they are part of a tribe. If you’re willing to pay directly to Fox, then you are confirming your membership to the tribe. You’re just adding a tribal comfort blanket to your bills and you’re able to use it 24/7.
Cable news, like most traditional platforms, is being eroded as TV viewers flee cable for streaming services. Fox News has been clobbering CNN and MSNBC in the U.S. ratings for years. It simply smart business to ask the Fox News tribe to pay directly for their tribal news. No progressive equivalent of Fox Nation exists or is planned. Until that happens, one tribe is winning. It has the data and the smarts.