Regular MSNBC viewers are well aware that the network has built its prime time brand around Keith Olbermann and Countdown. After Olbermann’s show became a hit, MSNBC went through a phase where they were looking for the next Keith Olbermann, which is most likely why they hired Ed Schultz, but it appears that things might be changing. Olbermann still does his usual around million or so viewers, but Rachel Maddow’s program is now running even with or doing better than its Olbermann lead in.
For October 7, which is the last day that ratings are available for, Maddow had 1.81 million viewers to Olbermann’s 1.097 million. Maddow also outdrew Olbermann in the age 25-54 demo, 512,000-449,000. The previous night Olbermann outdrew Maddow 1.16 million-1.085. On October 5, Maddow topped Olbermann again 1.294 million to 1.179 million. Monday was Olbermann’s day as he had 1.15 million viewers to Maddow’s 894,000. The previous week the pattern held steady both programs were within 100,000 viewers of each other twice, Olbermann drew over 100,000 viewers more than Maddow twice, and Maddow drew 100,000 or more viewers than Olbermann once.
Keith Olbermann’s Countdown had a terrible summer. In July, the show had its lowest viewership numbers since April 2008, and it wasn’t just the fact that it was summer, because his numbers were down from July 2009 and July 2008. In May Olbermann’s viewership among the 25-54 demo was down 23% from May2009. Meanwhile, Maddow’s show has been posting steady 6%-7% gains over her previous year numbers.
These numbers don’t mean that Olbermann’s show is in any danger. It looks likely that Countdown has leveled off into the 1-1.2 million viewer range. Olbermann is not experiencing any major declines, but he does seem to have reached his ceiling. Olbermann hasn’t declined. Maddow has grown, and I would argue that because of the style of her show Maddow has more upside than Countdown, which has a very insular no Republicans allowed feel to it, which could be due to the fact that Republicans would rather be set on fire than sit down with Olbermann. I am certain that the Countdown staff tries to get Republican guests.
I personally find Maddow’s show more interesting to watch, because while Keith Olbermann is the progressive’s emotional comfort food, Maddow show is more fact and analysis based. Keith Olbermann gets upset when something happens. Rachel Maddow explains what it means and why it happened. One approach is not better than the other. In fact, both these programs complement each other.
I ,like most people who have spent some time watching MSNBC, assumed that Countdown was the clear number one show, but this isn’t the case anymore. Countdown and RMS have become 1 A and 1B. Rachel Maddow has not only gained on Olbermann, but she is almost ready to overtake his spot at the top of the network. This could be because Maddow is finding a younger broader audience, or it could be because the tastes of viewers are changing. I would like to believe that Maddow’s rise is an omen that we may reaching the end of the popularity of the screaming and yelling, emotion is news phenomenon but I don’t think we’re there yet.
The folks upstairs at MSNBC seem to have taken notice of Maddow’s success as well. As evidenced by Lawrence O’Donnell’s toned down show, the network could be moving away from finding the next Olbermann, and towards more RMS style programming. If Maddow’s recent success continues she soon will replace Olbermann as the face of MSNBC, and she and her program will be one of the most unlikely success stories in the history of cable news.
All ratings info via TV by the numbers
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association