Another “MSNBC’s Slide” Article…

The National Journal’s Matthew Cooper writes about MSNBC’s recent ratings issues… (via J$)

MSNBC bills itself as the “place for politics,” but if you’ve been watching the network lately, it’s been all of the Zimmerman trial, all the time. Political director Chuck Todd grew so frustrated with the coverage preempting his Daily Rundown show that he barely concealed his exasperation on-air, as evidenced by a video from the Washington Free Beacon that quickly went viral. Most of the network’s flagship news shows, from Hardball with Chris Matthews to Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, seem to spend more time talking about Trayvon Martin than President Obama.

It’s nothing new for cable news these days – CNN, FOX News and Headline News have all put the trial at the center of their coverage. But the strategy is especially noticeable when it comes to MSNBC because its numbers have been in sharp decline over the last few months. The network that found success being the aggressively liberal alternative to CNN during the 2012 presidential election is now finding itself with a ratings headache on its hands. And it seems to be abandoning its politics-first play for the easy ratings of nonstop courtroom coverage – following CNN’s tabloid turn, if you will.

Cooper goes on to talk about why this could be happening and gets no shortage of opinions…

“When you’re too predictably a mouthpiece for the administration and you cast your lot with the president’s performance, there’s a risk,” said David Shuster, who left the network for Current TV when his contract expired in 2011. He pointed to Fox’s higher production values as one of the reasons for the conservative network’s ongoing ratings dominance lead and the high-brow nature of MSNBC’s prime time lineup as one of the reasons for its most recent decline.

MSNBC declined to comment for this story, but cable news veterans — including former MSNBC alumni — offered their own theories of what ails the network. One common theory is that MSNBC feels threatened by a resurgent CNN.

“MSNBC’s apparent success was owing to CNN’s failure,” says a former cable executive. “CNN was run so poorly that it made MSNBC look fantastic by comparison. “

I’m still sitting here slack jawed at Cooper’s characterization of Shuster’s departure. He left the network when his contract expired? That’s one way of putting it. Another way is to say he got exiled from the network, which put him on the sidelines until his contract expired, after he was revealed to have taped a pilot at CNN. One is certainly more charitable than the other.

But I take issue with the anonymous quote by the former cable executive. It’s not that cut and dried. Maybe CNN was run poorly but MSNBC’s success was all MSNBC’s doing. CNN’s numbers were falling, no doubt, but MSNBC’s numbers weren’t rising on account of that, they were rising despite that. People didn’t tune in to MSNBC because they got tired of CNN doing news and then suddenly changed their minds at the beginning of the year in enough numbers to vault CNN ahead of MSNBC. This whole quote reads like it came from a former CNNer giving a CNN based perspective.

This paragraph is key…

CNN has been the place for breaking news and its audience reliably swells when there’s a big event. (MSNBC insiders deride that as “muscle memory” owing to CNN’s 16-year head start in the 24-hour news biz and say it will fade in time.) CNN’s newsy rep would seem to account for much of its gain over MSNBC in the second quarter–a time span which included the Boston Marathon bombings, the Cleveland kidnappings, and the Oklahoma tornadoes as well as the Jodi Arias trial, which powered its Headline News channel ahead of MSNBC. But in June at the end of the dismal second quarter, MSNBC’s ratings picked up. “All those viewers who tuned into CNN for their big quarter haven’t stuck around,” says one cable executive.

Why is it key? Because it totally frames the argument not as one of MSNBC’s continued erosion in the face of a resurgent CNN but as one of MSNBC losing viewers during a high news period which CNN traditionaly excels at and MSNBC has all but thrown the towel in on. And this is a point that, as of this point in time, holds considerable weight for me because their is no demonstrably provable counterargument available. That may change in the future and if it does I shall revise my thinking based on the new data that must come to alter the landscape beyond cyclical news cycle ratings turmoil.

Cooper also touches on something I think has been understated…or overlooked.

Critics also suggest that MSNBC no longer has much diversity in the evenings. It’s not that MSNBC needs a conservative host. It’s that the nighttime hours from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM are too erudite, too sophisticated and too earnest to hook a wide swath of viewers.

I’m not a fan of lockstep primetime. Lack of diversity = lack of originality = increasing chances of viewer boredom. It’s one thing to have a sophisticated, erudite Rachel Maddow when she can be contrasted by the bombastic Keith Olbermann (or Ed Schultz). It’s another thing to have a sophisticated, erudite Maddow who was preceeded by a sophisticated, erudite Chris Hayes (and followed by another fellow traveler in Lawrence O’Donnel). How do you separate them, aside from gender and age?

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18 Responses to “Another “MSNBC’s Slide” Article…”

  1. The point I tried to make with Joe about Shep Smith. Things look varied because of contrasts and Shep helps bring that. Variety is the spice of life … and TV. Just because Joe talks to some losers on Twitter doesn’t mean FNC fans don’t appreciate Shepard. The numbers show we do.

  2. lonestar77 Says:

    ^ Exactly

  3. More lazy writing from Cooper:

    The network that found success being the aggressively liberal alternative to CNN during the 2012 presidential election is now finding itself with a ratings headache on its hands. And it seems to be abandoning its politics-first play for the easy ratings of nonstop courtroom coverage – following CNN’s tabloid turn, if you will. MSNBC hasn’t turned into a Trial Of The Week channel like CNN. This is one politically charged trial that is almost over, then we’ll be back to The Place For (Liberal) Politics. I don’t think this writer watches or knows much about MSNBC.

  4. bushleaguer Says:

    Joe – I don’t think either network has turned into a “Trial of the Week” channel. I flip around and I haven’t seen CNN going from one trial to the next (sans the Jody Arias coverage, which didn’t get the attention that the Zimmerman trial has gotten). Lazy observations on both counts IMO.

  5. I agree with all comments thus far, mine included.

  6. It’s hard to get worked up about a ratings decline over a single quarter ratings decline. it was only a few months ago we were all excited by a supposed decline in FNC PT ratings. There were a number of major news stories + Jodi Arias happening during the ratings period so it’s explainable. If next year at this time we are in the same situation we can talk.

    I do hope the MSNBC ratings for June/July 2013 are terrible so the network will never again decide to cover, wall to wall, a trial of no national importance other than it’s being covered by the other networks.

    It’s reality TV; just like ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Storage Wars’ but with a court setting. Very few people, aside from his family and friends, actually care what happens to Zimmerman. I know I don’t. Rather they use the coverage of his case as a vehicle to advocate for various political views or just plain entertainment. That’s not the role of cable news.

  7. carolmr Says:

    MSNBC has had a vested interest in this case mainly because of Al Sharpton and his early involvement. There is no way it would not cover this trial 24/7. I have no idea why CNN and FOX (to a lesser extent) followed suit. Yesterday Shep said FOX would cover today’s defense closing argument with no commercial interruption! I couldn’t believe it. Like Chuck Todd, I think many Americans are exasperated, confused, and sick of this local trial. I have no idea why the media has been so fascinated by this case when 99% of other shooting victims are lucky to get a mention in the news.

  8. savefarris Says:

    Maybe not calling your opponents ‘a##-face’ might be a good start?

  9. […] Cable News responds to a few of those theories, but there is one other possibility, a possibility that at least one MSNBC executive has mentioned […]

  10. “Maybe not calling your opponents ‘a##-face’ might be a good start?’

    ^^ I would agree if that’s what happened. But, unfortunately, John Boehner didn’t actually call Obama an a***face in his statement.

    Hayes used the word; as a sarcastic but pretty much accurate way; of making fun of the intent of Boehner’s statement. It was funny.

  11. “MSNBC has had a vested interest in this case mainly because of Al Sharpton”

    ^^Al Sharpton has a vested interest in the trial because of his activist role in the case. MSNBC hasn’t had a real vested interest since the ‘stand your ground’ defense was abandoned. Why they continued to cover the trial after that occurred; aside from the fact the other cable nets were covering it, is a mystery to many of us. In the end it may come down to ratings but who knows.

  12. savefarris Says:

    The part of Boehner’s statement that Hayes ‘a##-face’d over was “We just saw you ignore the law in order vis-a-vie the implementation of Obamacare. What assurances do we have that you won’t take whatever we pass and ignore the ‘secure the border’ part of Immigration?” Pretty pertinent and not something that deserves immediate mockery.

    It was in no way an accurate distillation of Boehner’s statement. But hey, you thought it was funny. To MSNBC viewers, degredation of others trumps accuracy so long as it’s funny.

  13. “It was in no way an accurate distillation of Boehner’s statement. But hey, you thought it was funny. To MSNBC viewers, degredation of others trumps accuracy so long as it’s funny.”

    ^^ It was funny farris but not nearly as funny as your fake outrage in the comment above. a** face! :-)

  14. The Germans have a term that translates to “a** with ears.” It means “dumba**.” A perfect fit for many in Washington .

  15. “A perfect fit for many in Washington .”

    ^^ True but I’m sure we would have different people in mind. ;-)

  16. One day, everyone will admit it. Chris Hayes is boring. His show is boring. He tries to be Rachel Maddow with none of her personality or charisma.

  17. ugg outlet

    Parigi – In politica non devi chiedere, devi prendere ha sempre detto Nicolas Sarkozy.

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