Should Phil Griffin Be Worried About Jeff Zucker? Not Yet…

Mediaite’s Joe Concha argues that Phil Griffin should be more worried about Jeff Zucker than beating FNC. While Concha’s premise merits consideration, his supporting evidence is extremely weak.

Over the past two weeks, night after night, Griffin’s network has been beaten soundly in primetime by Turner’s Headline News Network (HLN). Sure, some of that ratings bump is driven by the Jodi Arias trial, but as Bill Parcells once said, “There’s winning, and there’s misery.” And MSNBC can’t think of targeting the best team in the league when it can’t even win the race to runner-up, regardless of the excuse (in this case, a murder trial).

1) HLN is not Jeff Zucker (though ostensibly Zucker oversees HLN) nor is it CNN which is the purported threat to MSNBC Concha’s case hinges on.
2) OUTLIER! OUTLIER!

Re-quoting the above…

Sure, some of that ratings bump is driven by the Jodi Arias trial

Some? SOME?!?!?!

Are you kidding me?!??! HLN’s outlier ratings spike is entirely because of Jodi Arias. HLN hadn’t been a thorn in MSNBC’s side for years. Now all of a sudden it’s beating MSNBC just as HLN goes wall to wall Arias. Co-incidence? No. As soon as Arias’ trial is over, HLN will drop like a rock back to fourth. Nothing for Griffin to worry about here.

Turner’s CNN is also rebuilding its brand, evidenced by the recent (solid, not spectacular) hires of Chris Cuomo and Jake Tapper. And Jeff Zucker won’t stop there: Big pockets at Turner means relatively big names will likely follow in the coming year, and given the current numbers in the primetime 25-54 demo (mostly in the 100,000-150,000 range; for context, FOX News averages above 300,000), big changes are needed.

First of all, the onus is on Zucker to prove he can break CNN’s long running streak of going out and getting a name and then sideslipping in the ratings. And Cuomo is not a slam dunk guaranteed success story waiting to happen at the network. His partner still has to be named and the chemistry has to click right off the bat to prevent a flood of negative reaction (which is what makes naming Burnett such a potentially risky move because when the two were paired together recently the chemistry was awkward). Even if Zucker manages to launch a competitor format morning show to the big three broadcast morning shows, it’ll have to compete hard with the established booking powers at NBC, CBS, and ABC who can guarantee higher ratings to prospective booking targets than any of the cable news channels. That’s a hell of an uphill battle.

What should worry Griffin is holding on to Joe and Mika. If they bolt, as the long simmering rumors continue to bubble, MSNBC is in big trouble in the mornings especially now that Willie Geist has one foot on the Today Show. But barring that, mornings are not yet something to worry about. The pressure is all on Zucker to deliver, not on Griffin to anticipate.

Tapper is the more intriguing hire but his current timeslot is going to undercut his potential impact because the eyeballs just aren’t there in dayside compared to primetime.

That is pretty much the sum total of Concha’s argument for why Griffin should be worried about Zucker. Not much to really sink your teeth into, so I’m not convinced based on Concha’s evidence. Or lack thereof.

Where I do agree with Concha is about MSNBC’s chances of overtaking FNC. Based on the current programming slate, I’d say the chances are slim and none. FNC would have to slip up bad to give MSNBC a real shot at it. We’re talking massive viewer tune out here in the order of hundreds of thousands. There is nothing on the FNC horizon to indicate such a precipitous drop is in the offing.

But there is room to worry about MSNBC slippage. As Concha expertly notes The Cycle is awful. I won’t go all in on The Five as a comparison the way he does, if for no other reason than general principle (I universally despise all View type programming), but his argument on The Cycle is sound…

The Cycle simply has a different feel. The words that come to mind: Unbalanced, unnatural, uptight, forced, mean. It simply takes itself way too seriously.

But then Concha has to add this…

All of that said, The Cycle is still an improvement for MSNBC at 3:00 PM over its predecessor.

That would be Martin Bashir’s show…which is still on the air, albeit one hour later. Bashir’s show is just as uptight, forced, and occasionally mean as the Cycle.

Then there is the open question of whether Chris Hayes really is the right choice for 8pm. I will wait to see how MSNBC repackages Hayes for the different timeslot before opining there. But if Hayes can’t at least hold on to Ed Schultz’s numbers, that would create an opening for CNN if they moved 360 back to 10pm where it is better suited. But that’s a lot of ifs so I doubt Griffin is worrying about that either.

The one area where Griffin should be worried, which Concha ignores, is dayside. MSNBC dayside is weak. Its over-reliance on opinion and talking head analysis instead of news, something FNC doesn’t do anywhere near the level that MSNBC does (as evidenced by Pew’s study), is the one spot Zucker could easily work on to undermine MSNBC. The problem there is the headlines in the trades, newspapers, and blogs center around mornings and primetime. That’s what Zucker is working on first and that’s where MSNBC enjoys its strongest advantage over CNN. In other words, Zucker will be expending the most energy on the most uphill of uphill battles.

In theory, there is certainly a possibility that CNN at some point down the road could overtake MSNBC again. It’s possible that Zucker overhauls primetime in some manner to make CNN a threat again. It’s also possible that CNN’s new morning show will attract an audience in numbers big enough to scare 30 Rock, though I’m not holding my breath.

But these are all hypotheticals. The fact is right now CNN is not a threat to MSNBC’s #2 position. Neither is HLN, occasional sensational trials non-withstanding. It may be one day but that day is not today. Nor is it tomorrow. Nor next week. Nor next month. Very likely not this year. It took years to have CNN sink this low. It’ll take years for it to work itself out, if it can, barring some unforseen occurrance. Griffin may not even be at MSNBC when/if it does. So Phil Griffin need not worry much about Jeff Zucker. For now.

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9 Responses to “Should Phil Griffin Be Worried About Jeff Zucker? Not Yet…”

  1. I sort of liked The Cycle for about a minute. But no..it’s terrible.

  2. HLN may fall right after Judi Aries’ trial finishes, but it definitely won’t sink for long, as another major case will come out this june – Trayvon Martin, I am sure HLN may even override FOX later this year. On the other hand, did Cuomo + Burnett pairing go really awkward? I actually thought it went pretty well. p.s The Cycle is plain rubbish.

  3. I wonder what the hour by hour ratings are for MSNBC. I bet they lose everything Morning Joe, Daily Rundown and Chris Jansing bring in when Alex Wagner comes on. Granted, MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts isn’t the greatest newscast but it’s not bad either and I imagine people would at least keep that on.

  4. I thought Burnett was way too animated. Her arms were flying all over the place.

    Andy, Now is doing okay in the ratings relative to everything else in the day. Unfortunately…

  5. FNC has something nobody else will offer: a place conservatives can go that’s comfortable. Ratings may yo-yo depending on world events, but we are many and there is little to tempt us to go elsewhere. The story will remain a fight for #2 for the forseeable future with the stategy debate primarily among liberals. Meanwhile we FNC fans are pretty happy.

  6. lonestar77 Says:

    I honestly don’t know if MSNBC should be worried about CNN. I would think they should be way more worried about CNN than FNC should be about MSNBC for the following reasons:

    CNN has no where to go but up
    MSNBC is what it is. Unless they make drastic changes, they’re not going to increase their audience. It’s left wing opinion and anit-Conservative slandering all day long.
    Despite what the left would have you believe, FNC isn’t watched only by Conservatives.
    FNC doesn’t have any competition for what they offer. If you want a liberal perspective, you can choose CNN, MSNBC, or any of the big 3 networks. There’s no where else to go to hear a conservative perspective.

  7. but we are many and there is little to tempt us to go elsewhere

    The telly is no longer the required medium for news and video reports. FNC used to be on at my house most the time and was by far the most commonly tuned-to channel in the various rooms at the hopsitals where I work. I’ll still watch Red Eye sometimes but that’s it, and at work I don’t see it on nearly as much.

    Years ago FNC provided a well-balanced diet of quality news coverage. Today it serves mostly conservative-flavoured syrup. I don’t like sweets.

  8. FACT. MSNBC topped ratings over CNN last week.
    Not to worry about MSNBC . They are doing all right.

  9. Fox News is not allowed to be viewed in our household for all their hate rants and lies they tell on a daily basis.
    Don’t care about their ratings at all. That cable show/entertainment show are always making up stories. They are working for the R party and that’s enough for me. Waste of time filling up hatered and lies in one’s head.

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