The trouble with Katie Hopkins and why the situation was always a guaranteed loss

As the news emerges that far-right commentator Katie Hopkins will be deported from Australia, media analyst Ben Shepherd looks at why she was here in the first place, and what damage she may have caused.

When news leaked out that noted UK based far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was somehow holed up in Australian hotel quarantine, it understandably set off a predictable level of outrage.

Here’s a hot-take celebrity, famous for her disparaging remarks about anyone with a skin colour that isn’t white, who is banned from Twitter (no mean feat) and is considered by many a model citizen and spokesperson by Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other groups with equally questionable world views.

Hopkins couldn’t help but announce her 14-day mandated Australian hotel sleepover to her audience, letting them know she didn’t agree with the mandatory nature of the quarantine, and she was actively and enthusiastically breaching the rules by seeking to troll and harass frontline workers (who, are probably already traumatised given their day job involves trying to avoid contracting a potentially deadly disease).

Seven is bringing Big Brother back to Australian screens

The outrage only bubbled when it was revealed Hopkins is here as a guest of Seven. She travelled here to film the new series of Celebrity Big Brother according to reports, and word is (according to many sources including The Guardian) at Sunday afternoon Seven has cancelled her contract and she will not be appearing.

Even if Seven has pulled the pin on Hopkins, the decision making behind booking her in the first place needs to be analysed.

So how have we arrived at this spot? What series of decisions and processes has led to this situation where a highly antagonistic far-right personality has done what most stranded citizens have not been able to do – return home – and on top of this, landed what was surely a lucrative salary for a few weeks work.

I subscribe to the notion media companies are run by smart, intelligent people. They make decisions well aware of the likely outcomes. So with Hopkins, there are a few outcomes the network was likely hoping for. However, in my view – these, despite their possible intentions, are all likely to end in losses for the network, the advertisers, the viewers, and ultimately our political discourse.

Potential scenario 1 – Hopkins was recruited specifically to be controversial and to recruit a viewing audience who shared her views

Big Brother may be marketed as a young person’s show, but it has more linear viewers over 50 than under. Hopkins beliefs appeal much more to a 50+ audience than say an under 35 one, so the recruitment of Hopkins to draw people pro her views in the 50+ demo is not an unreasonable one. There’s also the benefit of people tuning in who disagree with her views, just to hatewatch the spectacle. This is the basis of the ‘both sides-ism’ you see on breakfast shows, talk radio etc, where people with extreme views are generously given platforms under the guise of balance.

Commercially the hope likely would be that Hopkins would bring a 5-10% audience bump by appealing to people who share her views and feel they are not adequately represented (despite the above) on TV. We may think this is a fringe element, but it’s material. For example, One Nation polled over 5% in the 2019 Senate election and over 10% for the Queensland Senate seats. Nationally that means one million people share these views. If you could attract 10% of them as viewers, this could bump ratings for the show up 15-20%, and in the world of eroding linear TV viewing, every viewer matters.

This is a loss for the overall industry as it would normalise these sorts of views in the public domain. It would make people feel it’s okay to share these views and also give a false sense that Hopkins is saying what everyone is thinking. The weight of TV means that incorrect or factually dubious views are given a megaphone and hence validated. It dumbs down the medium. It’s a loss for advertisers who trade a few percentage points in additional reach with the direct association with racism and xenophobia. It humanises a view that isolates and threatens the safety of others.

Potential scenario 2 – Seven recruited Hopkins in order to use her as a punchline for her views

In this scenario, Seven recruited Hopkins and placed her in the Big Brother house where her views would be mocked and ridiculed.

Here, Hopkins would have been recruited as a textbook controversial device. Cast as the villain, mocked for her views.

This works if you assume the audience is young and progressive. But the base audience for Big Brother isn’t young. More than half of linear viewers are over 50. So it’s a risky approach if your anointed villain is viewed by a large chunk of the audience as the hero.

Even if the intention was to use Hopkins as a vessel to expose the flaws in being racist, xenophobic, generally horrible, by placing these views in prime time on commercial TV, Seven was ultimately normalising them and demonstrating that these views can lead to positive outcomes for the person saying them.

Far from Hopkins being a victim of ‘cancel culture’, she landed what is likely a six figure gig on prime time TV in a country 23 hours by air from her home, for the sole reason of her views being offensive. If her appearance has been cancelled, you can guarantee she has been paid for the act. A disrepute clause doesn’t work if bringing things into disrepute is your brand and the reason why you were given a special talents exemption to jump the hotel quarantine queue.

Potential scenario 3 – Hopkins has been recruited not for her views, but because she is great talent

This paragraph has been left intentionally blank.

Potential scenario 4 – Seven is simply doing what it sees work for others, especially internet platforms, and looking to capitalise on division

This is a valid point and likely beyond the scope of a piece like this. Platforms have given a voice to division for the past decade, and the cost they have incurred is record revenue and company valuations that rival the GDP of mid-sized countries. Networks would see this and think that advertisers must be okay with this association, as the flow of advertiser money seems to suggest that divisive sentiment is not really an issue for most of them. And they would have a pretty good point. In the event Hopkins has been cancelled, a network could question why the pressure has been placed on them and not their larger platform counterparts, who every minute broadcast these views.

So … why was Katie Hopkins a universal loss for Seven, even if they have bailed on her? Let me count the ways

Direct, express and willing association with a far-right commentator; whilst paying for the privilege of association with her.

  • Advertisers, who are notoriously risk-averse, were never going to want to be too close to her. Many would have looked to cancel or reallocate their funds, especially as production has not commenced (as the talent is still in quarantine). Advertisers would not like the reality that they are directly paying for a far-right commentator to be on Australian screens, and that is the reality here as this show is entirely advertiser-funded.
  • Hopkins was unlikely to generate any additional viewers under 40. This is the demo the networks are struggling to obtain at the volume that platforms such as Snapchat and TikTok are. At best it will recruit more over 50s – who are available in plentiful supply across linear TV. For her recruitment, Seven now has the week leading up to the Olympics dominated by a poor programming decision. Timing-wise the network would have wanted feel good, warm fuzzy Aussies done proud stories … not direct alignment with a far-right commentator who is seen to have jumped the quarantine queue and actively put local workers in danger.
  • Once you resort to giving a far-right commentator entry to the nation’s living rooms, every night, in prime time, it’s very difficult to go back. It will set off a need to be even more controversial in future.
  • The optics of flying in international personalities, in the middle of a pandemic, known simply for being a famous far-right commentator, potentially suggests a disconnect between the decision-makers at the network and the wider population. This has potential repercussions when the success of the network depends on being able to read, and accommodate, the interests and demand of the domestic audience. This decision would have gone across the desks of a bunch of smart people – how did it get approved? And what does it say about the decision making generally when placed in the context of the Craig McLachlan prime time piece to camera, and the alleged crimes circling a prominent stood down Seven executives.
  • The viewers lose. Hopkins will take her money and bail back to the UK, but her views would have stirred up division and anger in Australia and this anger and division will simmer months and years after the cheque clears and Hopkins is spending the money.

It’s a hell of a collection of losses here for a very small upside. You’d wonder why Seven would follow through with it.


My initial view before it was reported that Seven was going to cancel her was that it was unlikely Hopkins would make it to screens. It was easier to pay her and allow her to return home than deal with the potential costs. If Hopkins was earning, say $300,000 for her appearance, she was an easy write off when compared with $1.5-2m in potentially lost advertising revenue if one sponsor pulls out.

The decision to remove her if the reports are true is ultimately the right one. However, it’s unfortunate the decision to recruit her was deemed a sensible and commercially responsible one.

Either way, we were all worse off for Katie Hopkins being on these shores.


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