Another “MSNBC’s Slide” Article…
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?