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What Al Gore Can Teach Donald Trump About TV

October 17, 2016, 6:04 PM UTC
Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Portsmouth, NH
Donald Trump speaks at Toyota Of Portsmouth car dealership on Oct. 15, 2016 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Photograph by Darren McCollester — Getty Images

Donald Trump continues to run for president, but rumors persist that he’s also planning for a post-election TV network if the polls prove prescient.

Most of this has just been idle speculation based on Trump confidant Roger Ailes being out of work, chased from his Fox News CEO post by multiple accusations of workplace sexual harrassment. But today we got something more substantive, with The Financial Times reporting that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and publisher of the New York Observer, “informally approached” media investment banker Aryeh Bourkoff about the possibility of Trump TV (although the approach may not have been reciprocated).

But before The Donald dives into television, he might want to consider two other national politicians that turned tube once their electoral dreams died.

The first is Al Gore, who famously lost out on the presidency by some hanging Floridian chads. Gore would go on to co-found Current Media, a user-generated content network and website for young adults that later shifted toward progressive politics. The former Veep served as the company’s executive chairman and the public face, but the company struggled to gain traction or profits.

In early 2013, Gore and his partners agreed to sell current to Qatar-owned Al Jazeera for approximately $500 million. It netted Gore a reported $70 million gross for around a decade’s work, but virtually no broader influence. If Trump is looking to incrementally help his balance sheet, then Gore is a good model to follow. But if he wants to bring the Breitbart-sphere more visibility, then he should look elsewhere.

Then there was Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and VP nominee who in 2014 launched an online TV network devoted. . .well, to all things Palin. It was subscription based and under the auspices of a larger startup led by former NBC Universal chairman Jeff Gaspin. This one barely lasted a full year, with Palin announcing in mid-2015 that all of her video content would become freely available via Facebook and the website for her political action committee.

Palin’s channel was narrower than what Trump may be looking to launch but, on the other hand, was aimed at a similar audience.

To be sure, past may not be prologue if Donald Trump (a) loses the election and (b) chooses to launch a TV network. After all, he has more on-camera experience than either Gore or Palin, in the non-political arena. Plus the possible involvement of Ailes, who even his detractors would say is a cable news ratings savant.

But he should pay heed to Gore and Palin, who prove that a national political profile does not necessarily translate into lasting media success.