Riding The Storm Out…

For the second consecutive month MSNBC got hammered in the ratings by straight news events. As TVNewser noted in a ratings post that’s full of “Where’d that come from?” off the grid ratings details, MSNBC’s primetime cratered to a six year low in May and many of MSNBC’s dayside programs hit all time lows.

Regardless of the validity of such an examination, you just know there’s going to be short attention span pieces coming focusing on MSNBC’s recent free fall and the possible reasons for it. The reasons aren’t that difficult to come up with:

1) Real news dominating the cycles. Phil Griffin bet MSNBC’s ratings fortunes on political POV analysis. This works as long as the news doesn’t dominate politics. When it does, MSNBC’s brand works against it. Griffin can squawk all day long about how smart the analysis is but it’s still political analysis and that brand just falls apart when news dominates politics. It’s highly unusual for this many news events to break in rapid succession so Griffin is no doubt hoping that politics will once again take the fore. It’s probably a safe bet that it will eventually. It’s a less safe bet that the damage done the past two months will not have long lasting repercussions that can only be corrected when there is a corresponding huge political news story. And even then that may not be enough because the type of political news may matter more than we may realize. Which leads me to…

2) Scandals, scandals everywhere. Benghazi, the IRS, the DOJ/AP and DOJ/Rosen investigations…these are not necessarily the type of political stories that work in the favor of a progressively focused cable news network. They tend to be demoralizing for the true believers; the viewers MSNBC counts on most…especially when the scandals come in rapid fire succession as these have. It would not at all surprise me if some percentage of MSNBC’s primetime viewing audience is demoralized with all the scandals that have broken out in the Obama administration and that in turn could lead to some viewership suppression…though to what degree is not known.

CNN is probably doing everything to argue that this development in MSNBC’s ratings decline is a sign that people are tired of MSNBC’s shtick and that CNN’s success will continue. I’m not convinced. And my reason for being not convinced is because of an upcoming news event which isn’t quite what it appears: the George Zimmerman trial.

On its face Zimmerman is a court case and a news event. But if you really think about it, it’s a lot more than that. It’s a court case with massive political and ideological overtones. While this will no doubt benefit HLN and CNN to some extent, it has the potential to really give MSNBC a shot in the arm. Zimmerman had already gone racial and political and those are subjects that, ideally, are right in MSNBC’s wheel house in ways that Jodi Arias’s trial could never be.

The open question is whether the possible gains I could foresee MSNBC getting as a result of a messy prolonged Zimmerman trial actually materialize. We shall see. In the meantime, MSNBC will ride out this ratings storm and hope for some political news it can take advantage of…


23 Responses to “Riding The Storm Out…”

  1. erich500 Says:

    So, Comcast spent billions of dollars buying, in part, a news network that simply cannot succeed if the news cycle doesn’t favor it?

    How long can they allow that to continue? Granted, Comcast is worth gazillions and MSNBC would be a small drain on their resources. But the stockholders may bring pitch forks to the next meeting and not because they don’t like the ideology of the channel.

    This approach by Griffin guarantees a second class status for the network. There may be periods where it threatens Fox but those are short lived.

  2. lonestar77 Says:

    Not much to say here. Spud pretty much covered it. MSNBC no longer has any hint of being a news network. They do what they do and it ain’t news. They need a Republican in office, an election season and absolutely zero breaking news in order to succeed.

  3. Hey Spud, most excellent REO reference. 😉

  4. Their ratings are down but I haven’t seen any reports claiming MSNBC isn’t earning profits.

    I’m not ready to accept the premise that it’s a ‘bad thing’ for NBCU/Comcast that MSNBC’s ratings decline when hard news events take over. Presumably, NBC News and their other hard news outlets get a simultaneous ratings bump in these circumstances. MSNBC is around to catch a niche set of eyeballs when there isn’t a major news event happening.

    Neither ABC nor CBS have a cable news channel. Fox does but it doesn’t have a broadcast news organisation and CNN isn’t affiliated with broadcast network at all. So why would it be smart for MSNBC to be a “news” channel?

  5. ^ Big picture, people. Big picture.

  6. I didn’t know Morning Joe’s ratings were dropping as bad as they are. I’d be willing to bet $100 that’s where all of CBS This Morning’s new viewers are coming from.

  7. MSNBC went too far with being a progressive network. It was great last year but it won’t be down the road. Progressives get their news from the internet more than they do from TV and radio. Rachel Maddow offers something for people to tune in for. The others don’t. If MSNBC started streaming online like CNN, ESPN and NBC Sports Network do – I don’t know that their ratings would go up but their brand would increase.

    I’ve noticed that they’ve had more news lately though – although, they’re distancing themselves from NBC. They’ve been using Thomas Roberts a lot more.

    I think they know there’s a problem.

    All In needs to be All Unplugged.

  8. MSNBC’s primetime line-up is available online. That’s how my daughter watches Rachel.

  9. I’m talking about live streaming. MSNBC should open up an option to stream it’s programming live online and on mobile devices (which, BTW, you can’t get MSNBC programming on). The viewers MSNBC is tying to attract live on their iPhones and Galaxy phones.

    FOX succeeds because their viewers are getting all their news from the television and radio. I don’t have a single Conservative friend who doesn’t watch FOX News day and night. The same is not true for progressives with MSNBC.

    People my age – sure they’ll watch Rachel because she’s hip and cool – but they’re not watching the other shows. Chris Hayes represents everything people hate about liberals – even everything young progressives hate about liberals. He’s a New York elitist. Blue collar people who drive their trucks to their blue collar jobs – they’re not going to tune in to watch Hayes ramble endlessly about climate change and about some school in Michigan closing down. Young progressives might like the subject content – but Chris Hayes is just not likable.

  10. As for the hard news – MSNBC’s toned it down quite a bit on politicizing news events. Their coverage of the Sandy Hook Massacre was terrible. Once “Smirky McSmirkster” started in with her gun control rant with that stupid looking smirk on her face, I flipped over to CBS News and kept it there.

    Same thing with Boston. CBS News was live almost around the clock so I watched them. When CBS wasn’t on air or online, I was watching Erin Burnett.

    Ed Schultz was good at breaking news and so is Rachel. Chris Matthews is great when he’s taken his medication. I noticed during the tornado, MSNBC pulled the plug on Sharpton and had Thomas Roberts and Milissa Rehberger on instead. I wonder if that’s a decision they’ll make in the future as well.

  11. Tonight Chris Hayes ended his show with a study about wives who make more than their husbands. Seriously.

  12. I was just thinking that having supposedly hard news NBC talent getting too closely associated with MSNBC opinion programming could really come back to haunt the big network’s news operation. I’ve often wondered of those loud spats between FNC and MSNBC if the latter was really just a proxy for a fight for viewers between FNC & NBC News …Fox wanting to be the cable alternative and NBC countering by giving some of their big names face time on the cable channel.

    Spud clearly points out that some portion of the ratings decline has to do with the substance of these recent big news stories. The risk to MSNBC is that people get into a habit of watching something else.

    I get most of my news via internet sources, too. Anecdotally, it appears to be that way for most people who have internet or smart phone access throughout the day.

    ^ If I was married and my wife made more than me, I would think that to be fan-freakin’-tastic. I hear there are still a few dolts around who hate being in the passenger seat with their wives at the wheel.

  13. The mo money the better. As long as we’re both putting the effort in, I don’t give a flip who gets the bigger paycheck.

  14. Spud clearly points out that some portion of the ratings decline has to do with the substance of these recent big news stories. The risk to MSNBC is that people get into a habit of watching something else.

    A very real risk. I bet there are a lot of people who have started watching Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper that won’t switch back to Chris Matthews and Chris Hayes.

    MSNBC has always struggled with breaking news. I think the only time I’ve seen them really perform well in comparison with other networks during breaking news was during and after Hurricane Katrina and that was because they really stood out as NBC’s cable operation. But at the same time, Olbermann’s rant about the hurricane response is quite literally the springboard that launched MSNBC in to becoming an opinion network.

    Such short memories people have when they say MSNBC’s recent changes are why people don’t watch during hard news. I don’t know if Spud’s forgotten but there used to be a time when MSNBC would completely ignore breaking news at night and on weekends. We used to gripe all the time on the old MSNBC fans message board that MSNBC was basically a Monday-Friday 9-5 network.

  15. I get most of my news via internet sources, too. Anecdotally, it appears to be that way for most people who have internet or smart phone access throughout the day.

    There was a brief time when MSNBC was streaming their daytime programming online. But once they turned daytime in to all opinion, they put an end to that.

  16. Tonight Chris Hayes ended his show with a study about wives who make more than their husbands. Seriously.

    His show is just bad. At first, I thought it was exciting because they’d be talking about topics that were taboo or not getting attention. The problem is, the topics he discusses now aren’t substantive.

  17. I guess I have to comment just to be the only person to stand up for Chris Hayes. I like the guy and I like his show – far more than I ever liked Ed. According to the ratings, I am the only one. But Spud’s analysis is spot on – the breaking news lately has benefited CNN greatly. And they deserve it – aside from some flubs (which MSNBC reported correctly) they did a good job of coverage. I agree with Andy on one point – CBS was the best hands down but I could always count on CNN to tune in and get the latest information. MSNBC is in a slump because, for better or worse, they have taken then focus off of breaking news and made their channel about analysis. It is what it is. CNN during slow times can be unwatchable. All In just got on the air and they had the unfortunate timing of debuting at a moment of big breaking news – which people will particularly go to Anderson Cooper to watch. Yeah, the show needs some tweeks and poor Chris is trying way too hard right now but there is no way after a couple months that MSNBC is going to pull the plug on his show. It takes much more time to establish an audience. Princess Erin’s show has been in the ratings crapper from the beginning and she is still on the air (what, nearly two years now and she still sucks). She is only doing well as a result of CNN’s brand from breaking news. We cable news viewers are a fickle bunch – I remember many of you having not so kind words about her show when it came on the air. Well, this time, I am sticking to my guns on this one – she is a wall street hack with no credibility and the few times I watched her on CNN lately they always paired her with someone who actually knows what they are talking about as if is she STILL needs training wheels. I’ll never watch her wall street blah blah “eat what you kill” blah blah “the bonuses come from a separate pool of money and not taxpayer funds that are needed to save the bank (plus my hubby gets a check)” blah blah giggle giggle “bankers have had it the worst during this recession” blah blah “all i want to do is travel the world on someone else’s dime” bleck. And yet its Chris who gets pegged as the overbearing liberal elitist? Seriously, there is no bigger preening elitist than Burnett.

    MSNBC needs to be more competitive with breaking news or they will lose audience. I am not immune to being tired of their antics. I watch Jake Tapper on my DVR instead of Chris Matthews. Chris Hayes is off to a rough start no doubt but as we have just witnessed in the last couple months, the dynamics can change quickly. CNN shouldn’t celebrate too quickly and MSNBC shouldn’t hyperventilate. Both need to evolve or all of cable news will be gobbled up by Fox News.

  18. As for the story about women making more than men, let me add that many news orgs covered that study from Pew Research including The Lead with Jake Tapper, Morning Joe, New York Times, Starting Point, The Atlantic, Time, Slate, Business Insider, HuffPo, Daily Beast, and apparently Fox Business News…


    Gotta say, science and Erick don’t mix well. He should leave science to smart people.

  19. I don’t know if anyone’s ever noticed this or not but CBS News has an online news channel. They usually show all their special reports and breaking news from affiliates on here.


  20. Elle, I’d love to know how the ‘wives making more than their husbands’ study became “news”. It was plastered on my NBCNews.com homepage for days. It’s like some male corporate douchebag suddenly realized women have high-powered jobs, and told all his corporate douchebag buddies.

  21. The best part is when Fill-In-The-Blank Conservative Male makes his predictably sexist comment about it, which he undoubtedly thinks is Edgy and Politically Incorrect. What it actually is is Not Helpful.

  22. carolmr Says:

    Andy said:

    “I didn’t know Morning Joe’s ratings were dropping as bad as they are.” Not according to the tweets Joe Scarborough has been furiously sending out.

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