‘Young Turk’ soars

Commentato­r looks to expand audience

- Roger Yu

Last week, Cenk Uygur expounded for nearly 17 minutes at his YouTube network studio about the suicide bombing attack in Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

The somber soliloquy revealed a personal, visceral interpreta­tion of the attack that left more than 40 people dead in the Muslim country. The Istanbul native said he, for a fleeting few seconds after he heard the news, had to recall that his traveling parents weren’t flying out of Turkey that day.

“You couldn’t have a bombing closer to me because of my family and friends in that exact area,” he said. “The most likely culprit is ISIS. The reaction that some here in the U.S. have is ‘Let’s go get them.’ We’re already getting ISIS. That’s why Turkey just got attacked, because the planes that are bombing ISIS are taking off from Turkey. To insult (the victims’) loved ones ... and say ‘Muslims did it’ is prepostero­us and counterpro­ductive.”

It was a performanc­e his 2.97 million YouTube subscriber­s have come to expect from The

Young Turks — unscripted, lots of hand gestures, professori­al, liberal and defiant.

A child of Turkish immigrants, Uygur, 46, grew up in New Jersey as a “loudmouth” who loved talking politics with his father at the kitchen table, he told USA TODAY. Unsure of a career path after college, he went to law and practiced it for about seven months before landing a job at a public access radio station in Arlington, Va. A string of TV and radio gigs followed, including a stint as an MSNBC talk show host.

Eager to dabble in new technology, he started in 2005 the video version of The Young Turks, his radio program on Sirius Satellite Radio at the time. Now, The

Young Turks, basically a no-frills politics-and-news conversati­on show featuring Uygur, co-host Ana Kasparian and other guests, is one of the largest and oldest online news shows, with subscriber numbers that would be the envy of broadcast networks.

He has gone corporate as well, creating TYT Network as the umbrella company. With production deals with Fusion, TYT Network Media aims to launch projects in the legacy medium of TV. His comments have been edited for brevity and clarity. Q: HOW DID ‘THE YOUNG TURKS’ COME ABOUT? A: I started (it) as a radio show in 2002 in Los Angeles, with (radio host) Ben Mankiewicz. We got on Sirius, and started online video at the end of 2005. That makes us the oldest online show. Some have been streaming before us, but they went out of business. Q: WHAT ARE YOUR ONLINE NUMBERS? A: We just crossed 4 billion lifetime views. We have 3 million subscriber­s for The Young Turks. TYT Network has 30 channels and it has 6 million subscriber­s just on YouTube and 8 million subscriber­s across the Web, including Facebook. In March, we had 218 million views and 86 million unique viewers. Q: WHAT’S THE SECRET SAUCE? A: I don’t think we’re great hosts. I think anyone who’d have done shows like ours would have had this kind of success. The country was thirsty for an authentic voice. We look to the camera and tell real stories. No teleprompt­er. We are excited about the news. The old school is taught to be dispassion­ate and that gives off vibes to the audience that they don’t care. Q: HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN COMFORTABL­E ON CAMERA? A: Yes and no. I was always kind of a loudmouth to the point where I annoyed my teachers and friends. But I was super nervous for the first seven shows. I got a little better after that because I came up with a trick. I looked at the camera and think it’s my girlfriend. And I’m telling (her) a story. Q: WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT REVENUE? A: We’re in many millions in revenue. But we are also in many millions in expenses. The company is up to 60 people now. But it’s a healthy business. Q: HOW DO YOU GENERATE REVENUE? A: YouTube sells advertisin­g for us. There are subscriber­s (who) pay $10 a month. That sustains us and gives us the right financial incentives. Be true to your audience or you will lose money. There are other smaller ways, like merchandis­ing. We sold a lot of Bernie Sanders shirts in the last few months. There’s original programmin­g. We sold a TV show to Fusion. It’s their show and they pay us to produce it. Another huge component is Facebook and Facebook Live. We had over 1 million views in January (2015). We now have 55 million to 60 million views a month just on Facebook. On (“over-the-top” video services), we are top five in minutes viewed. We’re on Comcast’s Watchable. We just did a deal with Amazon. Q: MUCH OF YOUR POPULARITY COMES FROM THE YOUTH MARKET. WAS THAT DELIBERATE? A: It was totally accident. Our audience is young. But it turns out we’re older than the average YouTube audience. It’s 13 to 24, whereas we’re 18 to 34. Now that we have a big presence on Facebook, that’s made us older. We’re stretching to 45. But I want the whole spectrum. Q: YOUR NOTELEPROM­PTER, CONVERSATI­ONAL APPROACH HAS STRUCK A NERVE. WHY AREN’T WE SEEING MORE OF IT ON TV? A: Same reason why they didn’t want me going off the teleprompt­er at MSNBC. If I’m off the teleprompt­er, management doesn’t get to see what I’m going to say. They deem it to be a risk they can’t control. They’re risk-averse. Q: YOU STARTED A POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE CALLED WOLF-PAC IN 2011, WHICH AIMS TO LOBBY STATE GOVERNMENT­S TO PASS AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTI­ON THAT WOULD LIMIT CORPORATE DONATIONS IN ELECTION CAMPAIGNS. HOW’S THAT GOING? A: We have over 30,000 volunteers. A lot of groups in Washington, D.C., are paper tigers. They almost have no grass-roots supporters. When we go knock on doors all over the country, we see almost no one else there in terms

of volunteers. Q: ANY INTEREST IN POLITICS? A: You’re like fourth or fifth person to ask me that in a week. In this system, hell no. Spending 50% of your time asking rich people for money. And which congressma­n or senator gets to talk to 86 million people a month? Why would I give that up?

 ??  ?? Cenk Uygur appears on a new Facebook-native show, Final Judgment.
Cenk Uygur appears on a new Facebook-native show, Final Judgment.

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