Phil Griffin on MSNBC’s Recent Ratings Woes…

In a must read, The New York Times’ Bill Carter writes about MSNBC’s ratings woes as of late with a nice big picture of Chris Hayes at the top of the article. Oh boy…

At MSNBC they view it as rooting against death and destruction: the last thing the channel wants is more months like the last two, filled with terror bombings, tornadoes and plant accidents.

It’s not all altruism. The destruction MSNBC also wants to avoid is the havoc such news has been wreaking on its competitive standing.

Carter gets Phil Griffin on the record, which I argued yesterday was an absolute necessity at this point.

Mr. Griffin acknowledged that CNN, which has experienced ratings gains near 100 percent in the last two months, shines in periods of intense news interest. But, he said, this will pass.

“You do have to look at the long term,” Mr. Griffin said in May. “In the first quarter of this year, Fox News had its lowest quarter in a decade. A year ago CNN had its worst month ever. I tip my hat to what CNN has done this month, but let’s not be so myopic as to think the whole world has changed.”

And this…

Mr. Griffin acknowledged that with Jeff Zucker, the former NBC chief executive and an experienced news producer from the “Today” show, now leading CNN, the competition is going to increase.

“We have to be aware of it,” he said. “We’ll figure out how to deal with their aggression in our own way.”

The way will be consistent with the political brand — and that could be a risk

“People are just sick of politics,” said one former senior network news producer, who asked not to be identified because of current dealings with another news organization. Mr. Griffin agreed that “dysfunction in Washington” has been a factor in MSNBC’s recent struggles.

MSNBC’s viewers may have especially grown tired of politics because the news has been mostly negative recently toward President Obama, whom MSNBC’s hosts have championed. As another senior producer for news programs at multiple networks put it, “People will watch MSG when the Knicks are hot, and not watch when they aren’t.”

Carter stubs his toe here though…

Unlike CNN and Fox, MSNBC does not have a full roster of its own correspondents, still relying largely on reporters from NBC News like Chuck Todd and Pete Williams. It does not even have a White House correspondent.

So what else is new? For its entire history the network has relied chiefly on NBC correspondents and correspondents from its affiliate service to do its reporting. Nobody was credibly accusing MSNBC of not being a news network its first 10 years (some did but their arguments were lame and ideologically based).

The difference is now those correspondent appearances have dwindled down to next to nothing compared to five years ago. Excepting when there’s big breaking news you rarely see an NBC correspondent on the air unless it’s a political story. For day to day general news you don’t see them now.

In the mornings it used to be that whoever was doing live spots on Today would wind up doing a live hit on MSNBC as well. That’s gone. When was the last time you saw Kerry Sanders in the morning? I can’t remember.

The reports from NBC affiliate service reporters which the network used to rely on to bring news stories in from various parts of the country have dwindled down to a paltry trickle. There are days when there are exceptions but they are few and far between and usually reserved for special occasions like national holidays where people stake out airports to report how jammed up things are or big storms where people report on damage.

In their place MSNBC has substituted talking head POV analysis. And that’s why the network has picked up the “not a news network” label; not because it doesn’t have an in house staff of reporters but because it has severely cut back on news story count length where the stories take about fifteen seconds of B roll on the screen with an anchor voice over and there’s no desire for a satellite report.

In addition, MSNBC has killed off most of its dayside news hours and replaced them with POV hosts doing POV analysis. It’s tough to call MSNBC a news network when so many of its programs eschew general news and focus almost exclusively on politics unless its a big breaking story.

But that doesn’t stop Griffin from trying to spin this development to the best of his ability…

Mr. Griffin offered his own definition of the network: “We are a news and information channel that focuses on politics and what’s going on in the country.”

“To say ‘news channel’ in the modern age is irrelevant,” he added. “E is a news channel. The Weather Channel is a news channel. Politico is a newspaper. They all do news and information in a different way.”

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22 Responses to “Phil Griffin on MSNBC’s Recent Ratings Woes…”

  1. I think the only time you have reports from Reporters on MSNBC is during First look at 5am ,and maybe Alex Witt’s 7am Saturday Hour

  2. It’s more often than that. But not much more…

  3. Mr. Griffin offered his own definition of the network: “We are a news and information channel that focuses on politics and what’s going on in the country.”

    That’s a lovely word salad.

  4. Griffin may have to lower that lofty goal of overtaking Fox… to overtaking CNN.

  5. “We are a news and information channel that focuses on politics and what’s going on in the country.”

    Translation: We have no idea what we want to be.

  6. “We are a breath mint AND a floor wax”.

  7. Does that word salad come with Caesar dressing?

  8. I have a feeling we have a lot more Lockup reruns on the way. 😦

  9. Excepting when there’s big breaking news you rarely see an NBC correspondent on the air unless it’s a political story.”

    ^^ This is a red herring. MSNBC uses NBC reporters as if they were there own because they are the same family of networks. As far as I know the main Fox network and FNC use the same reporters as well. It’s just the reverse of the NBC/MSNBC situation.

    “For day to day general news you don’t see them now.”

    ^^What’s general news and does anybody cover it? MSNBC covers stories on sports, entertainment, crime, disaster, human interest etc. just like Fox and CNN. They just don’t do wall to wall coverage on a true crime story like Jodi Arias like CNN and FNC. Their focus is politics with a left wing POV and that’s what it’s viewers want to see. When they go into general news or breaking news; like they have over the last couple of months; they lose viewers.

  10. Once again…excuses, excuses. Keith Olbermann was GREAT at covering breaking news and spent hours on the air doing it informatively and with grace. I remember watching him when Pope John Paul was dying, when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota, and, yes, after Michael Jackson’s death, just to name a few. He knew how to do breaking news. There was no mumbling and muttering then about how MSNBC wasn’t really a news channel–not when they had someone capable of covering breaking news.

    Phil Griffin made his bed and now he’s lying in it losing ratings. And all because he couldn’t bite his tongue when Olbermann said things to the effect of “Griffin thinks he’s my boss.” Had he just smiled and said “Whatever you say, KO,” he wouldn’t be in this situation.

  11. erich500 Says:

    Olbermann led MSNBC into these political swamps, Griffin followed and now they can’t get out. It’s a one dimensional network that can’t compete when politics doesn’t dominate events.

    And sorry, no one watched Olbermann because he did news competently. The liberal/left turned to him because he was attacking Bush. No more Bush, no more need for KO.

    If they bring back Olbermann they still have the problem of being a non-news news channel. And people don’t want to watch a news channel that never gives them news.

    Olbermann helped turn the network around by branding it a political channel. But in a time when people tire of politics that’s not an asset but a liabiltiy.

  12. “Political swamps”? Please. MSNBC was doing fine with politics, too, when Olbermann was there (despite his being anchored to that liability known as Chris Matthews). And I, for one, DID watch Olbermann in part because he did news well (not just competently). I began watching him before he attacked Bush, and I know many others did too. He was great at news, not just politics.

  13. erich500 Says:

    ^Sorry, this isn’t about what you like, this is about the ratings that MSNBC had. Prior to Olbermann’s attacks on the Bush White House, he and MSNBC were struggling along in third place.

    Once again: if politics doesn’t dominate then MSNBC can’t compete. They couldn’t compete when Olbermann was there and they can’t compete now.

    By political swamps I mean that as them being stuck in a place where they can’t get out.

  14. “To say ‘news channel’ in the modern age is irrelevant,” he added. “E is a news channel. The Weather Channel is a news channel. Politico is a newspaper. They all do news and information in a different way.”
    Wait he thinks E is a news channel ?

  15. Isn’t this essentially the same trap HLN set up for itself? It’s heavy crime focus depends on finding a case that’s compelling enough to bring viewers in and lasts long enough that they can cover it until it turns into pulp. Admittedly, they didn’t lose all news programming (Morning Express, the weekend rolling hours at the least), but they don’t get the highest ratings otherwise.

    A fun thought would be if MSNBC had actually gone all crime docs and essentially shuttered news and live programming. They did that with primetime for awhile, and it appeared to work.

  16. Perhaps MSNBC should just partner with the Obama administration with the White House supplying hosts and guests. Taxpayer supported, ratings not so important. Look and feel stays about the same. Eric Holder could introduce Lockup on weekends.

  17. “Political swamps”? Please. MSNBC was doing fine with politics, too, when Olbermann was there (despite his being anchored to that liability known as Chris Matthews). And I, for one, DID watch Olbermann in part because he did news well (not just competently). I began watching him before he attacked Bush, and I know many others did too. He was great at news, not just politics.

    He was actually one of the best at breaking news. He did an awesome job when Saddam Hussein was captured and with some of the other news events.

    Once again: if politics doesn’t dominate then MSNBC can’t compete. They couldn’t compete when Olbermann was there and they can’t compete now.

    Olbermann had sustained ratings. Even Ed Schultz had sustained ratings – but not as high as Olbermann. Nobody’s going to beat Bill O’Reilly – ever. However, MSNBC CAN compete at 9pm, 10pm and maybe even 11pm. They were competing at 9 and 10 before the calamity known as All In with Chris Hayes debuted.

    O’Reilly won’t be on forever. If MSNBC can build up a solid primetime, they could overtake FOX when O’Reilly does retire. They took a huge step backwards with Chris Hayes.

  18. capricex Says:

    The problem is that they went over the line in being Fox’s opposer by making MSNBC into a analysis liberal channel, where Fox still disguises their bias in news coverage. MSNBC is being more honest in their presentation but it’s hurting them with lack of news coverage. The hiring of op-ed writers and Al sharpon doesn’t help, where Fox at least has bias news anchors so they hold a bit more cred. MSNBC at the very least stop using NEWs to describe themselves, because their not it. Also, Both Fox and MSNBC’s political models shoot themselves in the foot because CNN has an open door to cover everything they can’t cover outside of politics.

    There’s a big group of people who don’t care about politics and see through the fact that both Fox and MSNBC are now talking point arms of each party. I’m not a Zucker fan, and dislike half the network’s talent, but I am excited with where CNN can go.

  19. Also, Both Fox and MSNBC’s political models shoot themselves in the foot because CNN has an open door to cover everything they can’t cover outside of politics.

    I disagree. For the most part, FOX’s viewers are different than other networks’ viewers. First off, FOX makes sure they have attractive women reporting the news so they can get young men to watch the network – and it works well for them. Second, as far as the Conservative approach goes, FOX knows their audience. FOX could completely ignore a major news story, get away with it and still win in ratings because their viewers don’t know or care what’s going on over on other networks unless they read about it on Newsbusters.

    FOX knows their audience is only getting their news from them. There’s a reason they frequently claim, and get away with it, that other networks are not covering the news stories that FOX is covering. They know that the media watchdogs, which are almost all Conservative themselves, aren’t going to call them out on it because they have the same ideological goals as FOX News.

    Because of the industry I work in, most of the people I meet are hardcore Conservatives. They post on Facebook all day and night about how Obama’s an evil communist dictator and how guns save lives and so on. I’m not going to say Progressives don’t care as much, but Progressives aren’t as outspoken about their views and aren’t as hyperpartisan.

    MSNBC can’t sustain a progressive audience because they go overboard with politics. Watching MSNBC day after day repeat the same thing day after day is the same thing as watching Jimmie Johnson win five straight NASCAR championships or watching Kyle Busch winning every single minor league NASCAR race. Eventually, you tune out or take a break from it. Not to mention, I still think hardcore Conservatives outnumber hardcore Progressives by large margins.

    FOX can do this with shows like Hannity because, well, more hyperpartisan audience and because they have the advantage of a Democrat being in office that they can attack every night. MSNBC’s model MIGHT work if a Republican gets in office.

  20. Olbermann was fired by MSNBC because they found out he was a deviated prevert. Gore the Sex Poodle hired him and Olbermann tried to lead a mutiny of preverts. And I don’t know anything about any planes attacking Russia. My orders were to get the idiot in charge on the phone to the President.

  21. capricex Says:

    @Andy Marquis I agree with you. But what I’m saying is if people have no interest in either party, or channel, both will not retain that viewer. There are people that come in just for breaking news, like Boston, OK, etc. I’ve work in the industry as well, and the problem is that inside the cable news beltway, by doing political models, there is a plateau of viewers you can reach who are diehard Dems or Rebs. Then you can’t reach beyond that, because either people are fed up with both sides, don’t care at all, or see through both party lines.

    There’s a big, and untapped group of people that fall into those three categories, and are looking for something else. But everyone inside is so far in they can’t even objectively see how much people don’t care. In the past 8 years, the transition into the political models have only hurt politics and the public’s view on each party instead of helping it. The cracks are showing, ratings are down across the board on normal news days because people are sick of news orgs being the voice box for each party. Whoever gets their head out of their ass first will be the winner.

  22. @capricex. I am also very skeptical about Zucker. I am not yet convinced CNN has pulled its head out of its @ss. New Day will be an interesting test. Is CNN going sensational crap, or will they be the news channel to challenge all powerful interests? Right now they are the news station FOR the interest groups – not challenging either side. AJA talks a good game right now but can they get past their PR problems? I guess we will see when they launch. AJA sounds like they want to be the news channel we hoped CNN would be. As far as I’m concerned, there is a market for political talk and there is a market for hard news and investigative journalism. I think the hard news market is underserved domestically.

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