While millions across America tuned in to watch the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday night, roughly 200,000 people witnessed the event through a Facebook Live stream that some are calling the birth of a Trump television network.
"If you’re tired of biased, mainstream media reporting (otherwise known as Crooked Hillary’s super PAC), tune into my Facebook Live broadcast," the Republican nominee wrote on his Facebook page prior to the event. The broadcast, unlike past live streams of the debate on Donald Trump's Facebook page, featured original pre-debate commentary from Trump surrogates retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, news crawl graphics, and Trump-themed campaign advertisements in lieu of regular commercials.
The live stream comes just days after Trump's son-in-law, New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, reportedly met with investment firm LionTree to discuss the possibility of a Trump TV network, leading to speculation that the Facebook broadcast was a test run of sorts for such an endeavor.
The concept of a Trump-owned television network has been welcomed by supporters of the Republican candidate who are, as he described, frustrated with what they see as "biased, mainstream media reporting." Since the start of his campaign, Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized the "mainstream media," charging that it is biased against him. The rhetoric has both fueled, and fed off, Americans' all-time lowest trust in the media.
"A lot of [the media's low approval rating] has to do with what Americans view as dishonest, agenda-laden reporting," Jim Kuypers, author of "Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States," told The Christian Science Monitor in June. "Many Americans," and Trump supporters especially, "are fed up with what they see as a press that talks about free speech, but does not responsibly use that right. To the degree that is there, Trump has tapped into that."
Last month, Trump told The Washington Post that he had "no interest" in starting his own media company, calling the speculations a "false rumor."
But, as the Republican nominee has continued to surround himself with media experts including Steve Bannon, the co-founder of the online conservative news site Breitbart, and Roger Ailes, the former Fox News CEO, the rumors have persisted. Now, following the reported talks between Mr. Kushner and LionTree and Wednesday night's Facebook broadcast, industry experts say that a Trump television network, in some form or another, could soon become a reality.
The network could theoretically exist in a matter of months, if Trump is willing to use new, low-cost streaming models that are quicker and cheaper than setting up a traditional television channel, according to industry analyst Alan Wolk.
"If he's willing to launch with a limited slate, 5-10 hours of mostly just him, and the rest will come in the next six months, he can get that up in 3-4 months and just build from there," Mr. Wolk told NBC News.
Others, such as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, speculate that Trump could launch a multimedia operation such as Glenn Beck's The Blaze, includes a website, radio programs, and a paid subscription digital television network.
Some have suggested that the Trump campaign is building up to a television network in the event of a loss to Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8.
"Trump and Bannon have given up on trying to defeat Clinton," wrote Ryan Lizza for The New Yorker this week. "They seem more interested in creating a platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics that may bedevil the Republican Party – and the country – for a long time to come."
But would such a platform succeed?
"Donald Trump has an audience, he has a message. It’s a matter of: can that sustain an entire network? I think it’s possible that it could," Glenn Hower, senior analyst for media/entertainment at market research firm Parks Associates, told Fortune. However, he added, similar attempts by political figures – such as Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, who launched a short-lived subscription web channel in 2014 – have failed.
"Just given what we’ve seen in the past, especially with the Palin network, it’s risky," Mr. Hower added.