MSNBC is in big trouble. Ratings are falling. Revenue is declining. The network lacks direction, and the problems all began when Keith Olbermann left, and Martin Bashir was removed.
Justin Baragona and I discussed MSNBC’s issues on today’s edition of Politicus Radio.
Listen to the show:
Politico’s Dylan Byers summed up MSNBC’s troubles:
MSNBC suffered harder loses in 2013 — in terms of both viewership and revenue — than either of its competitors at Fox News and CNN, according to Nielsen data featured in a new Pew Research report. Prime-time viewership declined by a staggering 24 percent (nearly twice the loss sustained by CNN and four-times that sustained by Fox News). Daytime viewership fell by 15 percent, even as it rose at both of the other networks.
On the revenue side, MSNBC was projected to decline by 2 percent, while both CNN and Fox News were projected to experience growth of 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively. MSNBC was expected to bring in $475 million in revenue: less than half what CNN will make and roughly one-quarter of what Fox News will make.
MSNBC’s decline can be traced back to one decision. At the time, when he let Keith Olbermann walk out the door, MSNBC boss Phil Griffin believed that his network’s brand was strong enough to replace the former 8 PM host. Griffin was wrong.
After Lawrence O’Donnell had failed, Griffin put Ed Schultz in the 8 PM slot. Griffin shuffled Schultz off to the weekends because he believed that MSNBC could attract more young viewers by developing several clones of Rachel Maddow’s successful 9 PM show. Phil Griffin decided to go wonky with Chris Hayes at 8, which led to many former MSNBC viewers leaving and not coming back.
Hayes has been a disaster at 8 PM, and viewer demand for Schultz was so strong that the blue collar populist was put back on to the weekday lineup at 5 PM.
MSNBC was floundering, and Griffin made things worse by caving to Sarah Palin and the right by defacto firing Martin Bashir for some blunt comments that he made about the former half term Alaska governor.
Bashir never has the audience that Olbermann did, but his removal from 4 PM sent a message to MSNBC’s viewers. Lean Forward was just a marketing slogan. When push came to shove, MSNBC easily caved to right-wing pressure.
The collective result of all these decisions is the alienation of viewers, declining ratings, diminishing revenues, and a total lack of identity.
MSNBC keeps getting younger, while their viewers are an average of 55. Rachel Maddow is an amazing talent, but the ratings have made it clear that viewers don’t want a whole network full of Maddow copies. The “wonk model” that Phil Griffin put into place has been a total failure.
Even at their worst, CNN was still profitable. It is hard not turn a profit in the day and age of talking head cable news, but MSNBC’s revenues are declining.
MSNBC angered viewers when they pushed Olbermann out the door, and they trashed their reputation with the way they handled the Bashir scandal.
Viewers are moving away from MSNBC, because the network isn’t listening to them. There is a huge untapped audience out there for a left of center news network. MSNBC blew it by getting rid of the hosts that viewers loved, and not giving the people what they want.
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