Tucker Carlson’s move to Twitter is intended to preserve his influence and political relevance, a person familiar with his plans said — but doesn’t solve his, or the struggling platform’s, long term challenges.
“Tucker prioritizes influence, Twitter allows him to not just be another podcaster, and get in front of a large, influential audience,” said a person familiar with his thinking. “He can get back to talking about the news quickly there.”
Carlson and Twitter proprietor Elon Musk had not met before Carlson interviewed Musk last month, but each saw an opportunity.
"The timing works out as Twitter is looking for content creators and Tucker is looking for a place to talk,” the person said.
Carlson is the biggest name in right-wing American media and a leader of the Republican Party's populist wing. He has fielded interest from cable networks and new media platforms — but he didn’t bid his show out to the various interested parties, one conservative media figure who has communicated with Carlson said.
Instead, he decided in recent days to relaunch his show on a platform that has no clear way to build a business around a streaming television show or podcast.
The former Fox News host also chose a platform that he has been permitted to operate on his own while at Fox — a relevant fact while he negotiates his way out of a $20 million contract, and aims to take as much money with him as he can.
The person close to Carlson also said that several former staffers from his Fox program planned to join him, including executive producer Justin Wells, who will likely play a role in the new Twitter show.
Musk tweeted that Carlson’s partnership with the platform was not an exclusive arrangement. And other media competitors who have been attempting to woo Carlson are still planning to pursue deals with the TV host.
Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who had proposed changing his network’s name to Carlson’s, told Semafor that he was still open to doing a deal with Carlson if he found Twitter to be a lackluster partner.
“It’s hard to think Twitter will be Tucker’s final destination,” he said. “We remain open to having a conversation with him.”
Musk’s embrace of Carlson carries immediate risks for a major source of Twitter’s revenue, as Carlson will likely alienate some of Twitter’s remaining advertisers. His inflammatory remarks on Fox News became a liability for the network as advertisers fled. And Musk’s erratic moves since taking over the platform have already caused it to shed millions in ad revenue from major companies.
“This is yet another example of Elon Musk’s Twitter being purposely tone deaf when it comes to advertisers’ concerns about content moderation under the guise of free speech and to his financial detriment,” veteran ad executive Lou Paskalis told Semafor. “He is now the undisputed master of self-inflicted wounds in that regard. I doubt he’s pursuing Rachel Maddow or any other left-leaning pundit as a follow-up to Tucker Carlson.”
Musk continues to race through discarded Twitter business models as he seeks to reinvent the platform. I had first-hand experience with this from 2017 to 2020, when BuzzFeed News, of which I was editor, launched a show called AM2DM, with the idea that a morning show hosted by Twitter natives and focused on the platform’s obsessions could draw an audience. (“Elon is launching AM to DM for Great Replacement enthusiasts,” one of my former colleagues, Joel Anderson, tweeted Tuesday.)
The program brought in real money, through advertiser-friendly segments delivered on clips, and had wonderful moments. But it ran into a fatal conflict with the platform’s core mechanics. A former Twitter employee who worked on it told me today that the core issue with attempting to shift Twitter toward television is the contrast between the requirement that you sit still to watch a show and the basic Twitter experience of scrolling.
“It’s doomscrolling versus doomstaying,” the former Twitter employee said. The notion that Carlson could build a significant video business on Twitter, he said, was “stupid.”
Twitter may temporarily solve Carlson’s need for relevance. Soon, however, he will need to find a business model — perhaps as the loss-leader for a platform like Rumble, or perhaps the biggest of a set of conservative personalities selling subscriptions to videos and podcasts, the most successful of which has been The Daily Wire.
But drawn-out negotiations Fox may lower his value. “The shelf life on the internet is real short,” said one potential bidder for Carlson’s services.
Room for Disagreement
The Daily Wire's Matt Walsh, who has risen to prominence promoting traditional conceptions of gender and sometimes vitriolic attacks on trans people, tweeted that he saw a transformation coming to the social network: "This will become a major movement now. Forget YouTube. This is the free speech platform."
And Twitter could, in theory, simply transform itself into a conservative media company, as it completes a race through other possible business models. An earlier generation of Twitter executives once imagined that Twitter could move in the direction of television. Musk could remake Twitter as a conservative subscription video platform to compete with The Daily Wire and Rumble, though that's a far smaller business than what Twitter once was, and would likely be a difficult sell to most of its users.
The View From Fox News
Carlson’s move also sets up a potential battle between two previously friendly right-leaning media businessmen.
Less than three months ago, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch was hanging out with Musk in a box at the Super Bowl, and telling Semafor that he thought the eccentric billionaire was doing a “great job” running Twitter. Now, the two seem to be in direct competition for who will control the next generation of conservative media audiences.
Tuesday’s announcement sets up a battle between Carlson and Fox, which will likely argue that the former host has violated his exclusive deal with the network. A Fox Corp spokesperson declined to comment on Carlson’s announcement.
Fox has some leverage if it wants to punish Musk for pursuing Carlson.
Fox News abstained from posting on the platform for several years after several Twitter users shared the address of one of Carlson’s homes. Fox News could once again stop sharing content on the site. So could Fox Sports, which arguably would have a more noticeable impact, since sports remains a major driver of eyeballs to the platform.
- Carlson, of course, has been a digital media entrepreneur before, founding the Daily Caller. But it wasn’t until he ascended to the heights of Fox News primetime that he attained serious status as a conservative kingmaker. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to keep that status in the transition back to digital media: As Kara Swisher noted, Carlson looked a lot smaller in a Twitter video than he did on a television screen.
- Carlson has opened a legal battle with Fox, accusing it of breaking promises it made him — which could in theory entitle him to walk away and keep his money, as Axios reported. But the fact that he’s limiting his new output to Twitter suggests he’s being careful with those negotiations, which could drag on for months or more. Fox may think it’s worth the money to keep him on the sidelines.