Although Donald Trump’s campaign continues to deny that it is launching any kind of “Trump TV” media venture after the election, it’s getting harder and harder to believe those claims—especially now that the campaign has launched a nightly TV-style news show on Facebook.
The live-streaming broadcast that premiered on the campaign’s Facebook (FB) page on Monday night had all the trappings of a conventional television news show: two hosts sitting behind a desk, a “chyron” (or headline crawl) running along the bottom of the stream, and so on.
The first show was rough with poor lighting and a boom microphone that dropped into the shot at one point, and it went live while the anchors were still adjusting their microphones, clearly unprepared. But it was definitely an attempt to broadcast a cable-TV style program.
Boris Epshteyn, one of the hosts, told Wired that the show has nothing to do with the launch of anything like a Trump TV media entity.
“We all know how strong the left wing media bias is. This is us delivering our message to voters,” said Epshteyn. “It has nothing to do with Trump TV. It’s about using 21st century technology and communication in a way that’s effective.”
Despite these protests, it seems fairly obvious that Trump is testing the waters to see what kind of audience he might be able to put together after the election—assuming he loses. The first iteration appeared on the night of the last debate, and it got more than nine million views.
It should be noted that Facebook considers anything longer than three seconds to be a view, so it’s difficult to meaningfully compare Trump’s stream to a conventional TV broadcast.
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The Monday night broadcast had between 40,000 and 60,000 concurrent viewers in the first half hour it was live, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter. Many of the traditional nightly news broadcasts have several million average viewers at any given time.
Just as he used social media platforms like Twitter (TWTR) to generate huge amounts of media coverage without having to spend a dime, Trump seems to be trying to do an end-run around conventional television by launching his venture solely via Facebook Live.
While building a traditional cable channel or network like Oprah’s OWN or Al Gore’s Current TV would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and likely fail, there is a chance that Trump could turn his right-wing following into the base for a digital-only service similar to what Glenn Beck has built with Blaze Media.
Beck, who started as a right-wing radio show host, launched his subscription service in 2010 and reportedly has about 400,000 subscribers paying $9.95 per month.
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It wouldn’t exactly dethrone Fox News, which Trump advisor Roger Ailes helped create two decades ago and generates an estimated $1 billion or so in profit every year for parent 21st Century Fox (FOX). But it might be enough for Trump to claim success as a media mogul.
There’s no guarantee of success even if he does go the digital-only route, however. Former right-wing media star and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin started her own online service charging users $9.95 a month in 2014, but eventually had to shut it down.
The big question is whether any of the audience that Trump has been able to generate by running for president will stick around after the election is over.
There is an existing right-wing nexus of independent media that Trump could quite easily plug into, including The Drudge Report (still a driver of major traffic to news sites), radio and TV personality Alex Jones, Breitbart News (whose co-founder Steve Bannon is Trump’s campaign manager), and more. But would that be enough for Trump?