Newsmax TV, a conservative news channel owned by President Trump's friend Christopher Ruddy, just got a big boost at Comcast.
The Philadelphia cable giant will add Newsmax to Xfinity so that it reaches 10 million Xfinity American homes, Newsmax and Comcast said on Tuesday.
Launched as an online news service in 1998 by Ruddy, 53, Newsmax — a mix of simulcast conservative radio shows and live talk — is expected to reach 80 million cable homes by late 2019, with the addition of Comcast and other distributors that have yet to sign. Already, Verizon Fios, Dish Network, and AT&T's DirecTV and Uverse have agreed to carry it, Ruddy said.
"I try to be supportive as a [Trump] friend, but Newsmax is run as an independent news agency," Ruddy said on Tuesday. Newsmax will run stories critical of Trump policies or his administration, he said.
Ruddy described Comcast's decision to add Newsmax to the Digital Starter package as a way to "help balance the ticket" between liberal and conservative cable channels on Xfinity.
Comcast had no comment on its decision to add Newsmax. While the general trend among cable companies is to offer "skinny bundles" with fewer channels, Comcast says it has consistently added two or three channels a year to satisfy consumer demand or refresh content.
Live cable news has been a bright spot for cable viewership in the hectic news cycles of the Trump presidency even as Amazon Prime and Netflix drain TV audiences to on-demand platforms for entertainment. Fox News has retained the cable news audience lead, though Comcast-owned MSNBC has seen significant viewership gains in the Trump era. According to Nielsen, Fox News had 2.6 million total viewers during prime time in August, while MSNBC had 2.3 million. CNN trailed with 1.2 million.
Republicans have criticized mainstream media companies such as Comcast as liberal and Trump has blasted Comcast-owned NBC News and AT&T-owned CNN as "fake news."
As part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, some believe Fox News has a monopoly on right-leaning viewers on cable. But that could change over time with Newsmax, even though it lacks high-voltage on-air talent such as Fox News' Sean Hannity. At the same time, Newsmax could help blunt criticism that Comcast caters to left-leaning news channels.
"If they are feeling the heat from the right, it will make sense to appease some of those critics," Victor Pickard, an associate professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said of Comcast.
Pickard was aware of Newsmax but it is not a generally well-known channel even though it is currently available in about 50 million homes. "They have such a significant market share and now, with Comcast, this is a big boost," he said.
Ruddy said he had been negotiating with Comcast for three years and eventually expects Newsmax to be distributed to 15 million Xfinity homes. He would not comment on the economics of the deal or whether Comcast would pay per-subscriber fees to distribute Newsmax. If Comcast hasn't agreed to pay those fees, Newsmax will have to finance itself to support operations in New York and Boca Raton, Fla., with advertising.
Ruddy began his journalism career as a reporter for the New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He also has been open about his friendship with Trump — which he says dates back 20 years — and his membership in Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
They speak often, Ruddy said, adding that other news outlets "don't give a balanced perception of [Trump's] achievements."