Cenk Uygur: Glenn Beck doesn’t get the Internet

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Glenn Beck’s attempt to lock down his new online show behind a subscription pay wall is a mistake, believes Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. “He has done it the wrong way,” Uygur told me yesterday during a phone conversation, musing that Beck doesn’t understand the online audience.

He added that the pay wall wasn’t Beck’s only mistake, but joked that he “didn’t want to help him” with too much advice.

It’s no surprise that Uygur is no fan of Beck; their politics couldn’t be more different. Still, there are some similarities between the two of them as well: Beck was dumped from Fox News earlier this year, and Uygur left MSNBC in July after a dispute over the direction of his show on the network. Beck then proceeded to build an online network called Glenn Beck TV (GBTV), and Uygur’s Young Turks have been doing political commentary online since 2005.

However, even leaving politics aside, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Beck is charging his audience between $5 and $10 per month for access to his show, whereas Uygur relies first and foremost on advertising. Beck’s online empire is a separate property, and Uygur flourishes on YouTube. The Young Turks have clocked more than half a billion views on Google’s video site, and are now part of a select group of producers that are going to launch premium channels as part of YouTube’s new content initiative in the coming months.

Town Square, as the channel is called, will be launching later this year, initially with just one show called The Point. The idea: News makers will send in small videos making their point about current events, and a panel of semi-regular experts will then comment on these clips. “It’s like a combination of the McLaughlin Group and American Idol,” promised Uygur. The show will initially be weekly and run 30 minutes, but length and frequency could easily be adjusted if needed. Said Uygur: “That’s a huge advantage over television.”

Of course, Uygur hasn’t shunned the world of TV completely. The Young Turks recently signed up with Current TV, where Uygur will start as the lead-in for his former MSNBC colleague Keith Olberman in about a month. One of the biggest bonuses of being with Current is that the network “understands online,” Uygur told me, which includes the ability to cross-promote the Young Turks brand on YouTube and Current. “There are so many people who watch TV [who] are not at all watching online videos,” he said, adding that there’s also a huge chunk of the YouTube audience that doesn’t watch or simply doesn’t have access to U.S.-based TV networks.

Being able to serve both of these audiences is something that puts Uygur in a unique position: He’s becoming a kind of cross-media news personality. He’s someone who controls his brand both in traditional and new media, and it’s obviously something he enjoys: “We are really excited to be at this intersection of TV and online,” said Uygur, sounding honestly stoked about the opportunities ahead. “It’s a great place to be.”

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