Glenn Beck is taking his franchise of conservative commentary to the web Monday, streaming the first episode of his new two-hour show exclusively to paying online subscribers. The former Fox News (s NWS) star already has 230,000 subscribers who pay between $5 and $10 per month for access to his GBTV online video network, according to the Wall Street Journal, and BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield estimates (registration required) that Beck could generate $27 million in subscription revenue within a year.
Forbes writer Jeff Bercovici even thinks Beck is on track to “become a $100 million man.” Subscription revenue could eventually reach $135 million, estimates Bercovici. Combined with sponsorships, radio deals and merchandise, Beck “is on course to break the $100 million barrier sooner than later,” writes Bercovici.
However, not everyone buys into the GBTV success story. Keith Olbermann mused on Twitter today that Beck’s initial subscriber number actually is on the low end:
In a subscriber-only piece WSJ reports Lonesome Rhodes Beck's pay-tv net has only 230,000 subscribers. #ThereIsAGodApparentlyHesFree
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) September 12, 2011
It’s no surprise that Olbermann would be mocking Beck, but he’s got a point when it comes to comparing Beck’s revenue to his previous salary at Fox News: GBTV has to pay bills for production and bandwidth, with the latter increasing with every additional viewer. “Expenses are probably $1 million a month,” estimated Olbermann, which would put Beck just slightly above break-even, depending on which subscription bracket his viewers choose to subscribe to.
Of course, breaking even from day one isn’t exactly a small feat either for a subscriber-only web TV venture. In traditional television, it often takes years before a cable channel actually makes money, and Beck may be ready to compete with some of cable’s audience numbers as well.
The WSJ reported today that Oprah’s new OWN network only had 156,000 people tuning in on average in June. Oprah recently acknowledged that running a cable network is “a lot harder” than she had imagined. Beck may just be about to prove that web TV can actually be easier.