Trump son-in-law holds TV start-up talks

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has informally approached one of the media industry’s top dealmakers about the prospect of setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election in November. 

Mr Kushner — an increasingly influential figure in the billionaire’s presidential campaign — contacted Aryeh Bourkoff, the founder and chief executive of LionTree, a boutique investment bank, within the past couple of months, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Their conversation was brief and has not progressed since, the people said. Mr Bourkoff and Mr Kushner both declined to comment. 

However, the approach suggests Mr Kushner and the Republican candidate himself are thinking about how to capitalise on the populist movement that has sprung up around their campaign in the event of an election defeat to Democrat Hillary Clinton next month.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal opinion poll, published this weekend, Mr Trump trailed Mrs Clinton by 11 points nationally.

Mr Trump, whose campaign is headed by populist digital media entrepreneur Stephen Bannon, has denied that he wants to start his own channel. “I have no interest in a media company. False rumour,” he told the Washington Post last month, following a Vanity Fair report that he and his advisers had explored the idea.

Mr Bourkoff, who launched LionTree in 2012, has advised on transactions worth more than $300bn, including Liberty Global’s $23.3bn acquisition of Virgin Media and Verizon’s $4.4bn takeover of AOL. He is also John Malone’s favoured adviser and helped the so-called “Cable Cowboy” consolidate the US pay-TV industry — in deals that culminated in Charter Communications’ $78bn takeover of Time Warner Cable this year. 

More importantly, Mr Bourkoff is a friend of Mr Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka. The two have worked together in the past: Mr Bourkoff advised Mr Kushner, who also owns the weekly New York Observer newspaper, when he tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team four years ago.

Establishing a Trump television network would be difficult, even with a large audience determined to watch its programming.

Cable and satellite companies are loath to take on extra channels in an era of shrinking audiences and “cord-cutting” — the cancellation of pricey pay-TV subscriptions in favour of cheaper, online alternatives. An “over the top” digital service would be one possibility but still costly because Mr Trump and Mr Kushner would need to spend heavily on marketing, talent and technology.

Roger Ailes, the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, is a friend of Mr Trump’s but would be prohibited from working on a Trump television venture by the terms of his exit agreement with the news network. He parted company with Fox this summer following an independent investigation into claims he sexually harassed Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News presenter.

However, Sean Hannity, Mr Trump’s biggest cheerleader on Fox News, would be free to work for a prospective Trump network. Mr Hannity was among several Fox stars, including Bill O’Reilly, with clauses in their contracts allowing them to leave if Mr Ailes did.

Talk about a Trump network has persisted, partly because of the fervent crowds that Mr Trump continues to attract on the campaign trail and his existing links to conservative media. Mr Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart, a network of rightwing news sites, was hired in August to run the Trump campaign. Breitbart is currently on a global expansion push, with the aim of adding sites in Germany and France to its existing operations in the US and Israel.


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