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The price could be right, but Trump TV isn't likely to happen

Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before endorsing Republican presidential candidate.
Getty Images
Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before endorsing Republican presidential candidate.

Donald Trump may have enough money to launch his own network, but money isn't the main obstacle to building Trump TV, according to former media executives.

"There's a little issue of advertising," said Sandy Grushow, CEO of Phase2Media and former chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "Most big brand advertisers would avoid it like the plague. The last thing anyone is looking for is controversy for fear of being boycotted."

The Financial Times reported on Monday that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner had "informally" talked to Aryeh Bourkoff, founder and CEO of investment bank LionTree, within the past few months. It said the two discussed the Republican presidential candidate starting a television network after the election.

Trump has damaged his brand with his racially insensitive comments, statements amounting to him admitting sexual assault, and sexual assault allegations from multiple women, according to a survey by research consultancy Brand Keys. Grushow said the candidate's remaining supporters — blue collar conservative and rural counties — aren't exactly an in-demand audience for brands.

"Advertisers are not interested in paying a premium to reach that audience," he said. "They'd probably able looking to reach that audience for as little money as possible."

Depending on whether Trump would hypothetically pursue a digital over-the-top offering or a traditional TV network, the price tag to launch such a project could range from tens of millions to the low billions.

The reports, along with those that Trump is allegedly working with disgraced former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, seem to lean toward the candidate wanting the more expensive route: a TV channel. Grushow said it's unlikely that any of the major media companies will want to add Trump TV to its roster, branding problems aside. Time Warner has CNN, Comcast has MSNBC, and 21st Century Fox has Fox News.

However, the barrier to entry on cable TV is much lower than in the past. As recently as 2013, Al Jazeera paid about $500 million for Current TV, but with so many channels floundering, the price could now be much cheaper, said Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey.

"There're many troubled networks, and a programming glut," said Brown, who was also senior vice president of CourtTV when it launched, and the founding editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com. "For the middle to lower tier of cable networks right now, it probably wouldn't take $500 million."

Still, a TV channel is a massive infrastructure with costs that include equipment, studio spaces and employees, Phase2Media's Grushow warns. And with cord cutting and cord shaving a reality among younger viewers, cable and satellite providers are looking to reduce the number of channels they are paying subscription fees for, he said.

If Trump decides to lean toward digital distribution, he can start his own networks for a fraction of the cost, Brown said. News networks like Glen Beck's TheBlaze TV and Cenk Uygur's The Young Turks primarily rely on digital channels to get their programs out.

"It seems unTrump to go out and spend an enormously huge amount on distribution when he can have digital distribution," said Brown. "He believes he has a root directly to people through social media access, and I think it's definitely the logical way they can do this."

Launching a digital network doesn't need as much capital or as many employees to create a studio, Brown pointed out. Friends and supporters who believe in Trump's ideological stances could easily fund the project, and programming could be as simple as Trump talking about his views or a reality TV show about his family and him, Brown added.

"One thing we know about Trump is because he thinks so much of his own persona, if he's the dominant thing on it, it doesn't need the level of infrastructure that ESPN needs," Brown said.

However, one major problem remains. Grushow wonders if anyone really wants a fourth news network — and if Trump's die-hard supporters are even willing to pay for it.

"Look at Trump's following," Grushow said. "He is connecting with a lot of blue-collar conservatives in rural America who are unemployed or minimally employed. How much discretionary income do they have to go out of their way to pay another $10 every month to hear the same message over and over again?"

Note: MSNBC.com and CNBC are owned by NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast.