Archive for the In Depth Category

Looking Closer at that Pew Report on Campaign News Sourcing: What The Numbers Really Say (or don’t say)…

Posted in CNN, FNC, In Depth, Miscellaneous Subjects, MSNBC on February 7, 2012 by icn2

The New York Times’ Brian Stelter writes about a new Pew Report on campaign news sourcing

Cable news channels are now the most prominent sources of campaign news for the American people, narrowly passing local television stations for the first time, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

It’s not that cable news is rising as a news source — it isn’t. But local stations, network news programs and local newspapers are declining in relevance, the survey indicates.

And there’s this…

The report affirms that cable news — led by the Fox News Channel, which is the No. 1 channel of its kind — is driving the national political conversation, at least among those who care to have the conversation nearly a year before Election Day.

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In Depth: MSNBC’s “We’re Insiders” Problem…

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on July 22, 2011 by icn2

The dust has hardly begun to settle in the wake of Cenk Uygur’s departure from MSNBC but already we can see the two distinct storylines being pushed by the respective parties involved. Uygur says MSNBC wanted him to tone it down and MSNBC says it wanted Uygur to tone it down but where they differ is what exactly needed to be toned down and who was concerned about the tone in the first place. However, ultimately none of that is relevant because it doesn’t matter what the truth is…what matters is what does the audience that Uygur catered to think is the truth. And to begin to answer that question we need to first look at how MSNBC went left in primetime.

MSNBC’s leftward turn may have started out organically thanks to Keith Olbermann but it was a business decision to expand upon that and build out early prime and primetime based on what Olbermann had done. MSNBC didn’t start out at launch looking to address a perceived need as FNC did. No, it spent years fumbling about trying various identities and looking for a winning formula. Consequently, while FNC viewers have never to any great extent seriously doubted that network’s commitment to its mission, MSNBC viewers in general and progressives in particular tend to look at what the network has done going left as a business decision.

Why does this matter? Because by being viewed as a business decision what the network does is viewed more skeptically by the true believer crowd it’s trying to cater to. The thinking would be something along the lines of “Yes, MSNBC is now trying to talk to us but it didn’t used to and it may not do so in the future”. MSNBC isn’t viewed as “one of us” by progressives the way FNC is viewed as “one of us” by conservatives. It’s viewed as “someone who is trying to cater to us”. That’s not an insignificant distinction and it goes a long way to underscore the reaction taking place on the internet to Uygur’s departure. While a few souls have characterized the fall of Uygur as something of his own creation, others have taken a different tack…
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In Depth: How CNBC has Blown its HD Advantage…

Posted in CNBC, In Depth on June 8, 2011 by icn2

When Bloomberg launched its HD feed a few weeks ago, I wondered whether it was just a graphical change or the video was all HD. Since the rollout has been limited so far – DirecTV hasn’t flipped Bloomberg HD yet and given how long it took to flip MSNBC HD (a year after it started) it will probably be a while – I didn’t know the answer until today. Today I saw a screengrab and the picture is definitely HD.

This leaves one cable news network carried widely in the US that hasn’t gone to full HD. Just one. CNBC. Al Jazeera isn’t carried widely here. Neither is BBC World News. Neither is CNNI but my understanding is CNNI isn’t HD yet either. HLN is HD now but isn’t widely distributed in HD yet.

CNBC was the second network in the US to offer an HD broadcast behind CNN (though CNN’s full rollout to pure HD was excruciatingly long and occurred in stages over a timespan of years). But CNBC’s sole change in HD was graphical in nature. It added an HD wing. It did nothing with the video.

Over the succeeding years, CNBC has stood and watched as it got passed by as FBN launched in full HD, FNC went full HD, MSNBC went full HD, HLN started down the HD road, and now Bloomberg US is in full HD. CNBC is the only remaining US based cable news network not to embrace full HD. And it was the second to launch an HD feed?

This got me to wondering “Why has CNBC stagnated on rolling out full HD?”

Could it be because it didn’t have the facilities to handle HD (Control rooms, etc..)? Well it does. CNBC’s Englewood Cliffs HQ serves as the Master Control backup for MSNBC and NBC Nightly News and it’s hot swappable. If they can control HD for those broadcasts, they can do it for their own.

Is it because CNBC hasn’t made the capital investments in swapping out the old SD cameras for HD versions? According to my sources, they have. Though it’s not clear that they have done it for all their sets. Remember, Englewood Cliffs is huge and has several studios dedicated for specific shows. You can’t just move those HD cameras around. They have to have enough cameras to cover all those sets.

The more digging I did the more puzzling this became. CNBC apparently has the proper infrastructure to handle an HD switchover and yet it has refused to do so. CNBC Europe’s London set is also fully HD capable but hasn’t been switched on. I don’t know the HD status of CNBC Asia’s studios.

One area that may be an issue is the graphics for the shows. CNBC’s wing and crawl may be HD but are all the graphics for all the shows…the splash screens, the animations, etc…now re-rendered for HD display? That would be a costly endeavor but the network has had years to work on this so the cost could have been spread out during that time by doing it in stages to make it more palatable.

CNBC hasn’t commented publicly on the HD subject. Privately however, I’ve heard stories from a couple of sources that the network has no plans to go HD in the foreseeable future. Worse, some of the reasons I’ve heard for that decision are pretty weak. I’ve heard that while the network has HD capability in Englewood Cliffs it has no HD control over remote feeds and trading floors. Well FBN manages just fine. It has full HD cameras on the floor of the NYSE and it has no qualms about showing the odd SD video feed from a remote location. Is CNBC admitting it won’t do what FBN can? All the networks that are currently HD air SD feeds on occasion and seem to have no problem with doing so. And those SD feeds are getting lesser and lesser all the time as more studios and remotes switch over to HD.

This isn’t 2007 with HD just starting to achieve penetration in the market. It’s 2011 and HD is well entrenched. The HD landscape has changed since CNBC first went HD and the network has not kept up. It stood pat. It’s now lagging well behind everyone else even though it apparently has the infrastructure capability to make the switch. This is inexcusable. It’s the stuff jokes are made for. It reflects badly upon CNBC and the network should move with all deliberate haste to launch full HD broadcasts as soon as possible. CNBC is no longer an HD leader. It’s now a straggler.

In Depth: The CNN – John Roberts Debacle…

Posted in CNN, In Depth on January 3, 2011 by icn2

We still don’t know exactly how and why things fell apart between John Roberts and CNN, the end result of which had Roberts winding up at FNC. But what we do know is that CNN horribly bungled the Roberts situation.

Last year CNN was involved in a very different bungled change; the exit/push of Larry King and the hiring of Piers Morgan. During that whole saga CNN wouldn’t say anything until the ink was dry. It wouldn’t say it was looking to find a Larry King replacement, even though the stories about Morgan had been circulating for a while, until King “announced” his leaving and a separation deal had been signed. It wouldn’t say it was talking to Morgan, even though it was (though maybe not in legal terms), until it had reached an agreement with NBC Universal. It wouldn’t say for sure that Piers was the one until it had hired him. Sure, all the leaks…many coming from Morgan’s camp…made this whole situation farcical but the point is CNN wouldn’t announce or do a thing until the ink was dry in all these instances.

Now contrast that with what happened with John Roberts. First word leaks out that Roberts is leaving American Morning and CNN issues a “No Comment”. So far, so good. CNN never talks about contracts so this is consistent. Then Roberts has his last day at CNN on Dec 24 and Carol Costello notes at the end of American Morning that Roberts will be staying in the CNN family and Roberts talks a bit about how excited he is about the new projects and being closer to his bride to be. So you have to figure that this is a done deal, right? CNN wouldn’t let things get this far and let it go out over its air if it didn’t have some contractual thing ironed out, right? It wouldn’t put the cart before the horse…the announcement before the ink hits the paper, right?

Wrong apparently. Because one week later Roberts is now headed for FNC and CNN is facing an unmitigated disaster. It announced the move over its own air before the contract had been signed. That’s okay as long as things go as planned. If they don’t…well.

This is a colossal top to bottom failure by CNN’s executive team which let things get out of control with Roberts to such a degree that public pronunciations were allowed to occur without any legal foundation to them, something that it never let happen with King and Morgan. CNN ends up looking feckless. Newly minted President Ken Jautz starts 2011 with a self inflicted black eye. CNN has to face a bunch of questions it doesn’t want to face. Roberts going to FNC would not be the story it is for CNN had it not made it look like he was staying put. Bad show all around.

Update: Could Roberts have been playing coy on his last day? Carpe Diem recounts the final minutes of Roberts’ final appearance on American Morning and correctly notes that the suggestion that Roberts would stay with CNN came not from Roberts himself but from Carol Costello.

There are two active questions here: 1) Was Costello ad libbing in the dark, not knowing Roberts and/or CNN had no intention of getting back together? 2) Was Costello being accurate and something happened after which made Roberts turn to FNC?
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In Depth: Jim Walton Bungles Executive Shakeup or Slick PR Move?

Posted in CNN, In Depth on September 24, 2010 by icn2

I touched on this briefly earlier this morning but it really needs a bigger fleshing out. The major question everyone should be asking in the wake of today’s CNN executive shakeup isn’t “How’d it happen?” nor “What’s the future hold?” nor “What other changes are coming?” and certainly isn’t “What’s Klein’s legacy?”. No, the most important question which only a few people have looked at so far is this: Why now?

Why fire Klein now? This is the real head scratcher. This is what makes the whole executive shakeup nonsensical for me.

Put it in these terms: Klein had mostly completed implementing another makeover to primetime and early evening. John King, USA is still young. Parker Spitzer is set to debut next month. Piers Morgan will debut in a few months. Sure there’s an open question about future talent staffing on American Morning, which Klein was probably already looking at but hadn’t gotten around to working on, but the biggest focus – the one where everyone is looking at – has been primetime. 2/3 of CNN primetime just got rebooted and the lead-in to primetime (King’s show) is new. Firing Klein at this point makes no sense because you fire the man but you’re forced to live with his legacy. You don’t fire people so that you can live with their legacy. You fire people because you don’t want to live with their legacy.
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In Depth: Geraldo Rivera Re-writes History

Posted in FNC, In Depth on September 7, 2010 by icn2

I wasn’t going to talk about this but it keeps coming up on FNC so I have to step in here and clear the air with a bit of a fact check. There’s been a lot of write ups on Geraldo Rivera’s 40 years in TV. Rivera is controversial. Some like him. Some can’t stand him. But he has had a more diverse career than most reporters will ever hope to have. So it’s right for Rivera to get his victory lap. He deserves one.

That all said, there’s one particular aspect of the victory lap that sort of puts a damper on the festivities for me. It concerns the “line in the sand” incident; where Rivera was accused of giving away troop positions on the ground. That incident made Rivera’s highlight reel along with a lot of other stuff like Al Capone’s vault and the chair throwing incident on his 90s talk show. I suppose the “line in the sand” is noteworthy though I wouldn’t put it in my top 5 or even top 10 highlights of Rivera’s career (though his on FNC’s air meltdown about NBC being out to get him after there were reports he was being kicked out of Iraq was must watch TV). But whatever, they decided to include it. That’s their prerogative. It’s what happened after that which got to me.

Rivera tried to downplay the incident, like it was no big deal and then went on to highlight his devotion to the US troops and included a video clip of David Patraeus thanking Rivera for his support of the troops.

I was going to let that slide Saturday night, except Rivera brought it up again on FNC this afternoon with Megyn Kelly and Rivera expanded his defense to include an attack of MSNBC. So now I have to set the record straight that Rivera is trying to gloss over.

I will not deny Rivera’s devotion to the US troops and what they’ve done. I think journalists in general could learn a thing or two from watching Rivera’s work with the troops. But to say that the “line in the sand” was no big deal is an argument that exists in an alternate reality we do not live in. It was a big deal and anyone who wants to know more about just what happened and how seriously this was taken by CENTCOM, the DOD, and FNC, one should re-read David Carr’s New York Times article on the incident

Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News Channel correspondent who broadcast a report from Iraq on Sunday night that gave details of the position and plans of United States troops, is expected to be pulled from the country on Tuesday, military officials said yesterday.

The expected decision by Fox, a unit of the News Corporation, to remove Mr. Rivera from the battlefield, after intense pressure by the military to do so, followed a day of conflicting statements.

Yesterday morning, an official at Central Command headquarters in Camp Saliya, Qatar, said Mr. Rivera’s reporting had compromised ”operational security” and that he had been escorted back to Kuwait.

By the afternoon, Bryan G. Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media relations, said the matter had not been settled.

”We have been in contact with the news organization,” Mr. Whitman said. ”They are taking it very seriously, and we will make the appropriate determination once we have been able to evaluate all the facts here.”

And it wasn’t just a line in the sand that was the issue here but time has dulled people’s memories apparently. Here’s another refresher courtesy of Carr…

”At one point, he actually revealed the time of an attack prior to its occurrence,” Lt. Mark Kitchens, a spokesman at Central Command, said yesterday morning. Lieutenant Kitchens added that Mr. Rivera had been escorted to Kuwait.

You mention Rivera’s name these days and most people aren’t going to think of “line in the sand” too much. Yet, it’s been front and center on FNC twice now in the past three days. Fine, if FNC and Rivera want to dredge up ancient history most people don’t care about, okay. But dredge it up properly. Don’t try to sugar coat it to make it more palatable.

Related: Odd that Rivera would bring up “line in the sand” in his highlight reel but not the “hallowed ground” incident in Afghanistan which even Roger Ailes labeled as a “rookie mistake” to Broadcasting & Cable…

We asked him to apologize for a rookie mistake. He got off the helicopter, had one source; it was a Northern Alliance source. He said this was a friendly-fire incident or something. He went to air with it, immediately. He should have checked it with another source. We apologize for jumping the gun. We thought it was a rookie mistake. Sorry.

Guess that one would be a little tougher to gloss over.

In Depth: MSNBC Dayside Changes…What do the Ratings Reveal? Not much…

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on August 8, 2010 by icn2

With the recent news of the hiring of Martin Bashir and Richard Lui for anchor positions on MSNBC, it appears MSNBC dayside is headed for some sort of September changes. The current version of MSNBC dayside dates back to the beginning of this year when there was a reboot of dayside. Interested in what MSNBC might be looking at in terms of dayside’s performance, ICN got its hands on the year to date ratings for MSNBC from 10am-4pm ET in a month by month breakdown for each hour. Unfortunately, the data is not very revealing. It shows that for the most part MSNBC dayside at each hour has been operating within a range and that the variations, while trending up in the demo recently, could be considered within Nielsen’s margin of error because of their small size when you’re only talking about tens of thousands.

While MSNBC has decidedly improved its dayside product by beefing up on news, it’s clear that for the moment it’s not been enough to move the ratings significantly. This may be why we’re now hearing about new hires and rumors of further changes to come. There are a couple of other interesting things going on here.

1. 10am ET is not following the same direction the ratings are going for the other news hours in the Total Viewer category (11-3pm). The other hours seem to be more in lockstep month to month. 10am, though, is charting its own course.

2. The other thing worth noting because of the public outcry in some areas of the internet is that, for all the talk of support by his fans on the internet and outrage over his removal, David Shuster’s disappearance from the schedule has not had a meaningful negative impact either at 10am or 3pm (Shuster was taken off the air in April).

Here are the numbers broken out by hour and month (all times ET)


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In Depth: Is Keith Olbermann About to do an “O’Reilly”?

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on July 15, 2010 by icn2

Keith Olbermann has a big decision to make, one that could affect him for a very long time. The question before him is whether he should do an “O’Reilly”. What I mean by that is that Olbermann now finds himself in a similar position to one Bill O’Reilly found himself in at the hands of Olbermann. O’Reilly had to make a decision, ignore the Olbermann taunts or fight back. O’Reilly chose to fight back and totally screwed the pooch in doing so with ridiculous stunts like the “Bring Phil Donahue Back” petition. This had the intended effect of elevating Olbermann as the thorn in O’Reilly’s side. Olbermann chortled in the press over O’Reilly’s response repeatedly saying “You don’t punch down, you punch up!”

Well now Olbermann finds himself with a “punch down” scenario of his own to ponder over. Despite Tucker Carlson’s claims to the contrary, I still believe this is something of a PR stunt designed to make the Daily Caller a player on the internet, all the ridiculous First Amendment chest thumping non-withstanding, with the Daily Caller being the thorn in Olbermann’s side that Olbermann was to O’Reilly’s side. I’m not a lawyer but I don’t think The Daily Caller has too much of a legal leg to stand on and if Olbermann goes after it, he could very well prevail. But at what cost?
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In Depth: Carlson vs. Olbermann – The Case Law…

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on July 15, 2010 by icn2

This morning Keith Olbermann sent a not so cryptic tweet about The Daily Caller getting…

Also regarding @TheDailyCaller and – the law’s pretty clear on this, so, nice waste of money, Tuckie.

Is it? I’m not a lawyer but this is what I was able to dig up on the subject from on the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act…

Update: Replaced Bitlaw quotation with what appears to be a more relevant section covering the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

(begin quotation)

What is the ACPA?

The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act is a federal law that took affect on November 29, 1999. This new domain name dispute law is intended to give trademark and service mark owners legal remedies against defendants who obtain domain names “in bad faith” that are identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark. If a mark is a famous mark, the same remedies are available if the domain name is identical to, confusingly similar to or dilutive of the mark.
What Must a Mark Owner Show to Win a Case of Cybersquatting?

The plaintiff must prove the following elements:

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In Depth: Howard Kurtz Punts on Octavia Nasr…

Posted in CNN, In Depth on July 11, 2010 by icn2

I made sure I had Reliable Sources DVR’d today so that I could see how Howard Kurtz, and by extension CNN, treated the Octavia Nasr controversy.

One of the biggest knocks on Kurtz by some of his most vocal critics, Mickey Kaus and Eric Alterman being two, is that he has an inherent conflict of interest problem because he’s supposed to be covering the media for the Washington Post but he has a show on CNN. Well, based on what happened today on Reliable Sources with the Nasr story, those critics will be feeling entirely justified in their conflict of interest claims.

The Nasr story was reported on Reliable Sources but that’s as far as it went. It got maybe two minutes of air time at the end of the show and was lumped in with a bunch of other media stories that occurred this week. There was no analysis or commentary.

This would not appear to be so galling if Kurtz hadn’t devoted an entire segment to Levi Johnston apologizing to Sarah Palin and another to Rush Limbaugh talking about how Barack Obama would have been a tour guide in Hawaii instead of President if he weren’t black. The Nasr story was tailor made for Reliable Sources to cover. It could have been approached from any number of angles; journalists in the age of Twitter, is a single tweet enough to compromise an entire career?, was CNN over-reacting in summary dismissal rather than suspension followed by re-assignment?, the delicacy of Middle East coverage…you could go on and on. It’s not like there was universal consensus on Nasr other than the fact that her original tweet was chronically brain dead. There’s been commentary on both sides of CNN’s decision to oust her and the story on that is far from settled. Instead of Reliable Sources doing what it’s supposedly there to do we got nothing beyond straight reporting on Nasr but got plenty on Johnston and Limbaugh.

Questions are going to linger around CNN and Kurtz as to why the Nasr story was treated that way. Did Kurtz decide it wasn’t a big enough story? Did CNN “suggest” that just reporting the story was all that was needed? Would the story have been treated differently if the subject wasn’t a former CNN employee?

Who knows. The one thing I do know is that Kurtz did his show a major disservice by not taking the Nasr story head on with a full panel to debate the many serious issues that go to the heart of what journalism is today. It was an opportunity wasted.

In Depth: Nasr – Over-reaction or Not?

Posted in CNN, In Depth on July 7, 2010 by icn2

I’m still digesting the very quick firing of CNN’s Octavia Nasr. As I said earlier “I don’t know. Maybe she had to go.” Being the position she was in at CNN one could make the argument that CNN was compromised, at the very least in the short term, as all the outrage erupted. But was the damage irreparable? Think about this for a moment. This wasn’t just a newbie who went off the reservation in a fit of pique. This was a 20 year veteran of the network with a deep background in Mideast affairs.

Let me be clear about one thing. Nasr’s original tweet was criminally tone deaf. A veteran of Mideast affairs should have known better than put out a glib tweet like that which was tailor made for wild interpretation. Admired how? In what way? The possibilities are endless. Of course, most people logically jumped to the most obvious conclusion regardless of any other possible interpretations.

Here’s where things get complicated. Nasr clarified her comments to refer to why Fadlalah was in certain respects a maverick in the Hezbollah movement, particularly where women are concerned and taking a stand against Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran. This is the sort of dry intellectual technical point analysis that’s the stuff of the Mideast wonk, which Nasr was. But it doesn’t play well outside that arena with a public who are either not well informed on the subject matter to understand or don’t care because the underlying issue for them is terrorism and that’s all that matters. It’s akin to trying to humanize some communist leader who probably did one or two things right for his country but at a cost that far outweighed whatever positives he had. Nobody cares about the positives. All they care about is the tyranny.
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In Depth: Five Ways to Fix CNN?

Posted in CNN, In Depth on July 7, 2010 by icn2

Jay Rosen writes on about five ways to fix CNN. As with a lot of things Rosen writes about some have merit and some need more fleshing out. First of all I really wish Rosen and everyone else who writes about CNN would differentiate about what part of CNN they are talking about: Dayside or Primetime? The rules are different for each and what Rosen writes about fixing CNN is more applicable to one than the other.

1. Drop the chronic impartiality.

CNN is brain dead. They have worked themselves into an intellectual trap of having no particular point of view; they have convinced themselves that they can’t become right-wing like Fox or left-wing like MSNBC. As Jon Stewart demonstrated, CNN airs a dispute in which one side may be insane — the earth is flat — but the anchors fail to explain who is right. They need to cure this problem of “leaving it there,” because it’s killing them — it’s killing their brand, it’s killing trust, it’s lazy, it’s superficial, and it’s an audience loser.

Hang on…isn’t this supposed to the “fair and balanced” credo? We report, you decide? Present both sides and let the viewer make up their mind? Now this is suddenly a brand killer? Furthermore, who gets to decide what constitutes sanity and what doesn’t? If there is no set agreed upon standard then explaining “who is right” from an absolute sense is problematic. It then turns away from “who is right” to “who I say is right”. But that’s not necessarily right. And even O’Reilly lets the “loons” get in the last word even if he trounces them (or thinks he’s trounced them).
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In Depth: Finally CNN Gives Definitive Piers Morgan Answer…Almost…

Posted in CNN, In Depth on July 1, 2010 by icn2

Why, why, why CNN kept the Piers Morgan story alive by not shooting it down completely I don’t know. Bad PR or they just wanted to stay the center of discussion – the “only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” strategy if you will – regardless of the validity of the discussion? Who knows. Anyway Broadcasting & Cable’s Marissa Guthrie pulls Jon Klein’s teeth and the answer finally comes out…

But in an email message to B&C, Klein completely disavowed the rumors, writing, “We never have negotiated with Piers.” He declined to elaborate in response to follow-up requests.

Well, that settles that…

wait…hang on…no it doesn’t.

Klein didn’t just disavow all the rumors. He only disavowed the rumors pertaining to CNN negotiating with Piers Morgan. That still leaves alive the rumors that CNN was talking with Morgan and that CNN wanted to know if Morgan would like to have the 6pm slot. All three could be true. CNN could have even offered the slot to Morgan but they hadn’t gotten around to negotiating yet. Still too much wiggle room here in Klein’s answer and I’m not at all surprised that Klein didn’t respond to Guthrie’s follow up questions.

Every time this network tries to bury the Piers Morgan story, the more legitimacy it ends up giving to it. Either come clean and say “Yeah, we’ve talked to the guy but we’re nowhere near close to a deal” or clam up about it already with a big fat “No Comment”. Stop trying to be cute and Clintonian with your answers. You guys just keep hurting yourselves with this story. And I think I could see why. If it came out that CNN has been talking to Morgan it totally upends Tuesday’s very delicately crafted Larry King exit storyline where King called it a day on his own that it was his decision. That doesn’t fly anymore if CNN had been courting Morgan and it adds more fuel to what people have been hinting at but haven’t come out directly and said; Larry King didn’t leave…he was pushed. The network may be in a real bind here.

Update: It also doesn’t help the King narrative any to have CNN insiders talking to Howard Kurtz

Piers Morgan, a former editor of London’s Daily Mirror and News of the World but best known in the United States as a judge on “America’s Got Talent,” is seen by some CNN and industry insiders as most likely to inherit the program.

Update 2: Kurtz link fixed.

In Depth: NBC is Looking for Viewer Feedback on MSNBC…and Mulling a Return to POV Dayside Anchoring?

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on June 23, 2010 by icn2

New News:VIPs survey out today and it’s a long one and it’s mostly all about MSNBC, the first time News:VIPs has done one mostly concerning that network. It’s a pretty comprehensive survey that covers a lot of territory but the information and slides forwarded to ICN indicate that it mostly pertains to areas related to MSNBC’s dayside news operation…

(click on slides to enlarge)

This section surveys what viewers are looking for from their news channel. Note the “Anchor with a strong point of view” choice.
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In Depth: Olbermann Checks Out on Kos…

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on June 17, 2010 by icn2

Keith Olbermann takes his keyboard and goes home…(via Mediaite)

For years, from the Katrina days onward, whenever I stuck my neck out, I usually visited here as the cliched guy in the desert stopping by the oasis. I never got universal support, and never expected it, nor wanted it (who wants an automatic “Yes” machine?). But I used to read a lot about how people here would ‘always have my back’ and trust me this was of palpable value as I fought opponents external and internal who try to knock me and Rachel off the air, all the time, in ways you can imagine and others you can’t.

Now I get to read how we pre-planned our anger because ‘beating up on the President has been good for ratings’.

If I can understand people’s frustration with seeing a speech by a Democratic president criticized in a venue such as mine, why is it impossible for some people here to accept my frustration about the speech? You don’t agree with me, fine. You don’t want to watch because you don’t agree with me, fine. But to accuse me, after five years of risking what I have to present the truth as I see it, of staging something for effect, is deeply offensive to me and is an indication of what has happened here.

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In Depth: The Voice of God – Why it Still Serves a Purpose

Posted in In Depth on June 16, 2010 by icn2

I noted last weekend in the comments on one thread I noted that I’d been mulling doing a post about the “voice of God” factor and, after some encouragement to do so, here it comes.

I’m old school. I’m a big believer and supporter of the Voice of God factor in TV news. For the uninitiated, the term “voice of God” is a somewhat ethereal term that has subjective aspects to it. Loosely defined it’s widely held to refer to news anchors who the viewer trusts with near implicity in times of big news cycles as if they’re getting the news straight from God.

For me personally, the definition is far more specific. It refers to news anchors who enunciate their words and carry themselves on the air in such a manner as to project a mastery or command of the story with such authority that it resonates through the TV screen directly to you (in a symbolic sense of course) and you come away from the TV thinking to yourself, “Damn. They’re good.”

In truth, no anchor truly has a complete mastery or command of the story in all details. But then that’s the whole point. That voice of God lulls you into thinking they do, or at the very least convinces you they have more than a superficial knowledge of the subject at hand. And those with that talent are self-aware of their limitations. They won’t put themselves in a position where they’re caught flat footed or out of their depth. If they don’t know something, they’ll admit as much up front, rather than allow the viewer to discover that on their own, thus destroying the connection between viewer and anchor. Better to admit your shortcomings and maintain the relationship as an honest broker than try to skate by and hope the viewer doesn’t catch on that you really don’t know much about what you’re talking about.
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In Depth: MSNBC…why O’Donnell?

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on June 15, 2010 by icn2

When I first saw that Keith Olbermann tweet announcing Lawrence O’Donnell getting his own show my initial reaction was to check further down Twitter to see if this was the punch line to some joke Olbermann had started earlier. But it’s no joke. O’Donnell will now have a 10pm show. But the same question keeps ringing around in my head….why this guy?

If you asked me to compile a list of possible candidates to host MSNBC at 10pm, Lawrence O’Donnell would be down near the bottom of it. Sure he’s been associated with MSNBC for 14 years. Yes, he kept Countdown alive and kicking while Olbermann was off the air after the death of his father. Yes, he’s the safe choice because you know what you’re going to get.

But he is also one of the most boring, most uninspiring choices MSNBC could have made. When MSNBC hired Maddow, they got someone on the rise and not part of the establishment who was generating a buzz and had outside followers that she could bring in to MSNBC. None of those things apply to Lawrence O’Donnell. He’s an “old democrat” long part of the establishment and not considered part of the new progressive movement that Maddow hangs out on. He has no meaningful following and though he is a “name” he has no inherent buzz surrounding him. And he is not likely to bring in fresh new viewers the way Maddow had.

Put it in these terms. Say I run a network and I just got the rights to the NFC conference of the NFL and I want to bring in new viewers in to football and my first decision is to go pull past-his-time Pat Summerall out of retirement for play by play. That’s what MSNBC putting Lawrence O’Donnell on 10pm is for the network. It’s a Pat Summerall move.
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In Depth: Anatomy of a Denial…

Posted in CNN, In Depth on June 14, 2010 by icn2

CNN’s been pretty busy today trying to shoot down the Piers Morgan story to almost everyone.

But let’s take a close look at what that “denial” says…and more importantly what it doesn’t say…

Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of people who would love to succeed Larry King if and when he moves on, but rumors that we are close to signing a deal for a Larry King replacement are untrue. We are currently looking at replacing our 8pm program and that is our priority. Larry is a beloved member of the team, and he will continue to be part of the CNN family into the future.

The only thing that CNN outright denies is that the network is “close to signing a deal” for a King replacement. That’s it. Here’s what CNN didn’t deny…

1) That it was talking with Piers Morgan.
2) That it is working on a deal with Piers Morgan.
3) That it is considering Piers Morgan to replace Larry King at some point.

If CNN hired Morgan tomorrow for some such duty unrelated to King’s hour and then later on dumped King and put Morgan on in his place, today’s denial would still be accurate. That’s how much wiggle room there is in it. Though if Morgan were hired for anything at this point it immediately would cause such a firestorm to swirl around King, that I believe Morgan won’t be hired for anything because of the carnage that would ensue.

Just remember, not all denials are created equal…

In Depth: Desperation Throw?

Posted in FBN, FNC, In Depth on June 9, 2010 by icn2

Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer writes about a new FBN ad campaign that features…nothing but FNC talent?

In a TV ad that has played in the New York market on Fox News, but also has been seen this week on the cable news competition CNN and MSNBC, every major FNC star makes an appearance in a rapid 30-seconds. Bill O’Reilly says FBN is “straight-forward, no-spin talk you can trust,” while Sean Hannity describes “the power to inform.” Then there’s Glenn Beck, who says, “come on America the choice is simple,” and “this network wants you to succeed” (apparently the competition doesn’t).

Also in the ad are Greta Van Susteren, Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer. The tagline at the end, showing both logos, is “two networks, twice the power.”

What this ad also inadvertently says (which Krakauer didn’t mention): FBN apparently is neither strong enough nor has the star power necessary to speak for itself, so much so that they have to bring in “ringers” from its big sister to make its case for it. Krakauer argues that the increased star power may yield dividends down the line. It may, or it may not. But that isn’t what concerns me. What concerns me is the mixed message it sends to the viewers and to FBN’s staff.

Long time MSNBC viewers know of what I write. For years on end big news stories would get usurped by NBC News’ star talent while the rest of the time the network’s staff was left to fend for itself. This had the unfortunate result of re-enforcing in the viewers’ minds that MSNBC was weak and only mattered to NBC when it was a big news story. This is less the case today than it used to be but this phenomenon still occurs – but today it sometimes takes a slightly different form where MSNBC’s primetime talking heads start eating up dayside real estate during big news stories and leaving the in house bread and butter news anchors either marginalized or on the bench entirely.

The point, in FBN’s case, is this: By using people who don’t have much at all to do with FBN’s day to day on air presentation, the network risks making the viewers think that FBN can’t function well on its own, that it has to go outside for help, that it will look for something, anything, to bring viewers in regardless of the suitability of such an endeavor. I don’t think FBN is weak. And I think FBN is getting stronger every day. But that’s not what these ads covey to me. Instead of banking on the stars the network has to sell it, the network banks on the stars it doesn’t have to sell it.

In Depth: HD but not always HD…

Posted in FNC, In Depth, MSNBC on June 5, 2010 by icn2

Having just gotten to see MSNBC in HD after nearly a year of waiting, I’ve noticed something. Occasionally they will broadcast interviews taped off air earlier in the day from the NYC set but the interviews are broadcast in SD and not HD. The question arises as to why the SD broadcast since the network and studio are supposed to be HD now?

The answer may be complicated. As most of these interviews are taped during either Morning Joe or The Daily Rundown (which comes from Washington D.C) it suggests one of two things…

1) MSNBC does not have enough HD redundancy in its control rooms. I find this explanation a bit flimsy because one of the reasons MSNBC’s HD rollout was delayed was because of not enough HD ready control rooms. It has at least two HD control rooms I believe so not enough control rooms shouldn’t be the issue.

2) There is some sort of internal HD pipeline issue that prevents concurrent/simultaneous HD filming from taking place. What exactly that internal HD pipeline issue constitutes…I have no idea.

Whatever the reason, this should be fixed. I see no reason, other than cost, for why MSNBC shouldn’t be able to show all its interviews from its HD capable sets in HD.

But, to be fair, MSNBC is not alone in this regard. FNC from time to time has also shown a similar HD problem, though it doesn’t happen nearly as often. I’ve only seen it manifest itself on Sundays when America’s News HQ will sometimes broadcast Housecalls with Dr. Isadore Roesenfeld in SD. In those instances it’s obvious the segments have been taped in advance, probably during Fox and Friends Weekend. Similarly I’ve seen Weekend Live go remotely to the NYC newsroom nook for a segment but the picture is SD or upconverted SD but not HD even though DC is broadcasting in HD and the newsroom is HD capable.

I haven’t seen similar issues on CNN yet.

In (too much) Depth: The Case of the Disappearing footage of the disappearing Audio…

Posted in FNC, In Depth on May 25, 2010 by icn2

Ok this story has been percolating for a few days and I was watching it but I wasn’t going to write about it until and unless it got bigger. Today it did when The Huffington Post picked it up. The story centers around some FNC video posted on the website of President Obama giving a comencement address at West Point. As with a lot of “controversies” involving FNC this one is pretty complicated.

First there is the original FNC video snippet of Obama’s speech at West Point. Then there is a video of a screengrab of the website that was posted by Michael Moore on YouTube. Moore then tweeted the following…

WestPt cadets applaud Obama, FoxNews alters tape 2 remove applause Fox version:0:46-56 Actual:10:28-38

Naturally this was picked up by the usual suspects like Think Progress, Media Matters and the like and it’s been spreading all over the blue blogosphere. This is where things get complicated. Moore’s argument is that Fox made it look like nobody applauded for Obama. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
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In Depth: Ailes & Co. review FBN…

Posted in FBN, In Depth on May 24, 2010 by icn2

Last week, according to sources, Roger Ailes and FBN’s senior and executive producers all convened in a room to watch the network’s broadcast. The purpose of this gathering? To examine the programming in detail and see what was working and what might need changing or tweaking.

Given the cancellation of Fox Business Morning, Happy Hour, the cancellation of the short lived Imus in the Evening, the canceled but not yet off the air Your Questions, Your Money, the recent news of new weekday shows for Eric Bolling and possibly Geri Willis, and Andrew Napolitano’s new weekend show (I hear there’s a possibility that as many as three new weekend programs may launch), news of an in depth review of the network’s broadcast further drives home the point that FBN is in a transitional/transformational period.

Some will no doubt immediately leap to the conclusion that this is a clear sign that the network is in trouble as it makes some pretty serious changes to its programming. I’m not convinced that this is automatically a given. First of all, any network worth its salt is going to have reviews of some sort, though the sort of meeting described in the first paragraph sounds atypical. Second, some of the FBN cancellations appear to be cost related, at least in part. Your Questions, Your Money in particular was expensive to produce given that the technical staff were all weekday workers doing voluntary overtime, which costs a lot more. Third, internally, morale is good at the network. Morale is never good at a network that’s in trouble.
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In Depth: To stress primetime or to not stress primetime? That is the question.

Posted in CNN, FNC, In Depth, MSNBC on May 24, 2010 by icn2

The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik makes a passionate case for CNN staying the course…

Here’s why I am so passionate about this: CNN is our last, best hope for a full-service, worldwide, US-based, TV news operation dedicated first and foremost to offering verified information and facts rather than opinion and commentary. Such information is crucial to democracy. If CNN fails, you tell where else we will find such information in time of crisis on TV. Jim Lehrer’s “NewsHour” aspires to the same goals, but it has a tiny staff and nothing close to the kind of funding it taakes to cover America let alone the world.

And as the networks cut back, CNN has expanded to 36 bureaus worldwide.

Here’s my rebuttal:

While it could be so argued that CNN is the “last best hope for a full-service, worldwide, US-based, TV news operation” the point that CNN is solely “dedicated first and foremost to offering verified information and facts rather than opinion and commentary” is not a totally accurate appraisal. Witness Rick’s List. Witness CNN’s foray into the Twitter-verse and bringing people’s opinions on stories to the air. CNN is not pure as the driven snow on this matter. Not anymore. It may be more pure than MSNBC or FNC but that doesn’t mean that CNN domestic isn’t already tainted.
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In Depth: What now for CNN at 8pm?

Posted in CNN, In Depth on May 19, 2010 by icn2

I disappear for 24 hours and all hell breaks loose on CNN. The news of Campbell Brown leaving her show, first reported on Mediaite, was big news, not because Brown is departing CNN but because the timing was totally unexpected.

In the years to come CNN’s handling of Brown and that timeslot should serve as a stellar example for up and coming programmers of how not to roll out a new talent in a new timeslot. To say that the format was in flux would be a massive understatement. Brown’s two maternity leaves – particularly the first which kept her from joining CNN until the middle of the election season which Chris Ariens correctly noted yesterday kept Brown and CNN from giving her show an identity until the elections were over – changing producers and the show’s format from straight news to more of an opinion based show and then back to straight news again all combined to prevent the show from gaining any traction with the viewers. From start to finish Brown and the show were mishandled. It’s almost like CNN hired Brown without really knowing what it wanted to do with her. The only positive thing that CNN can take from this Charlie Foxtrot is that Rick Sanchez might still be anchoring weekends had he not been tapped as Brown’s first fill-in during her first maternity leave. He took that assignment and built on that and parlayed it into a M-Fr show. But in terms of abject failure, CNN’s handling of Brown and her show was even worse than its handling of Paula Zahn’s 8pm hour. In Zahn’s case the network tried everything over a much greater time span.

But the failure of 8pm and Brown should drive home the lessons CNN didn’t learn from Zahn’s tenure. Assuming that CNN doesn’t do a “Crossfire” return of some sort, up against Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, and Nancy Grace CNN needs a strong personality that makes waves while still being in CNN’s straight news stable. If this doesn’t sound like a job description tailor made for Rick Sanchez, I don’t know what does. Say what you will about Sanchez and his shtick, and I’m not that big a fan, he’s a better fit for the new cable news landscape at 8pm than either Brown or Zahn were. No wonder Brown wanted to move the show to 7pm. She was right in her assessment.

In Depth: MSNBC Dayside Still Declining…

Posted in In Depth, MSNBC on May 14, 2010 by icn2

Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer writes about MSNBC Dayside’s dismal numbers…

Hey media writers and TV critics – remember when you had all those ideas about how to help CNN’s lagging prime time ratings?

Well, put on those executive hats again because it’s time to help MSNBC. The network’s 9am-5pmET (dayside ratings) is headed for its worst year since 1999, with even less viewers in May.

The MSNBC ratings comparison is based on the A25-54 demographic, and so far in 2010 the network is averaging 73,000 from 9am-5pmET. In the first two weeks of May, that average falls to 68,000. It takes going back to 1999 (less than three years after the network launched) to find an average lower.

Then Krakauer goes off the rails…and straight into quicksand…

So how does MSNBC fix this? Well hopefully the dozens of media writers have some ideas of their own. But when looking at what has been successful for the network, certain themes emerge. With Keith Olbermann as the face of the new MSNBC, we see strong personalities, and yes, a liberal tilt. That works for Rachel Maddow, as well as Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews before prime time. It doesn’t worry about appealing to the lowest common denominator – and in the process has built a loyal audience that has grown in the last few years (although MSNBC shows have declined year-to-year, as most programs have).

One solution could be to build up the dayside hours with more personality-driven news. While Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd are well respected journalists, their anchoring duties have not produced significant ratings.

What’s Krakauer been doing with his time? Apparently not watching MSNBC dayside (he’s in good company there). Krakauer just looked at MSNBC primetime and came to the same wrong conclusion that the MSNBC brass did last June when it tried to put strong personalities on dayside by hiring Dylan Ratigan for mornings, putting on Carlos Watson, and pairing David Shuster with Tamron Hall and letting them run wild with a more “shoot from the hip” newscast (we’ll ignore Nancy Snyderman’s show which never fit in with the rest of the format and was sort of forced down MSNBC’s throat by those with much higher pay grades). It’s why we continue to see Ed Schultz pop up anchoring on dayside, something he has no business doing. The point: Strong personalities are not a sliver bullet. Content matters as well.
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In Depth: FBN’s Incredibly Shrinking Business News Coverage…

Posted in Bloomberg, CNBC, FBN, In Depth on May 10, 2010 by icn2

Last Friday ICN broke the news that FBN would be canceling several programs including Fox Business Morning; the latter being replaced by a Best of Imus hour. Part of me was hoping my sources were wrong. They weren’t. My DVR showed the Best of Imus when I played FBN’s 5am ET hour on my DVR this morning.

I would imagine the reason for the cancellation of Fox Business Morning boils down to ratings, as most of cancellations do. We can’t tell of course because FBN continues to hide behind that “we’re not officially rated by Nielsen” sieve of theirs – it’s a sieve and not a shield because ratings occasionally drip out when the network…or its competition…wants to try and emphasize a point – but it seems the likely reason.

What is more telling however is the decision to cancel the show outright and replace it with tape rather than change the format or the hosts. Apparently tinkering was not an option. When Imus came on board FBN ceded 6-9am to CNBC and Bloomberg for business news coverage; FBN’s cut-ins and internet broadcasts non-withstanding. But it still had 5-6am for business coverage of pre market open news. Now that’s gone too. CNBC and Bloomberg now essentially own the pre-market open news cycle.
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Style over substance?

Posted in CNN, In Depth on May 7, 2010 by icn2

The New York Daily News’ Richard Huff takes a dim view of the way CNN is operating its new Atlanta HD set…

CNN changed its onscreen look this week.

After watching for a few days, I’m certain that someone there must own stock in Dramamine.

That’s because it’s hard to watch CNN for any length of time without getting seasick.

Almost every segment starts with the camera taking a long shot of the anchor, then zooming in and occasionally swirling around the side and over the anchor’s shoulder. None of this is smooth, either.

Factor in the changing backdrops – the weather folks work the map, while the camera is moving in and out – and the result is like riding a Tilt-a-Whirl with a bad stomach.

Call this “we have a new set syndrome”. It’s a malady that sometimes infects TV news execs when presented with a new set to play with. Something similar happened with “The Situation Room” when it debuted and MSNBC when it moved to 30 Rock. Like the common cold, “we have a new set syndrome” is a temporary affliction which goes away after a while.

Covering Yesterday’s Market Fall…

Posted in Bloomberg, CNBC, FBN, In Depth on May 7, 2010 by icn2

The New York Times’ Brian Stelter writes about the business nets covering yesterday’s market mess…

The anchors on CNBC, Bloomberg and the Fox Business Network didn’t panic, but they did turn their collective attention to the Dow between 2:40 and 2:50 p.m. Eastern when the market nosedived. “I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here, but this thing just continues to break records,” the Fox Business anchor David Asman said of the Dow’s drop.

At times, the cable anchors were talking over one another, making it especially hard to make sense of what was being said. (Four minutes of CNBC’s coverage are up on YouTube, courtesy Business Insider.)

When the Dow was down more than 900 points and the CNBC anchor Erin Burnett observed that the Procter & Gamble stock had dropped 25 percent, Jim Cramer, the former hedge fund trader and the host of “Mad Money,” seemed to calm the conversation down a bit by basically saying “buy, buy, buy.”

Imus and FBN – Yes, there is a line…

Posted in FBN, In Depth on May 7, 2010 by icn2

Last year, after several early morning business news incidents where FBN didn’t dump out of Imus to cover the story, I posited the question regarding whether there would ever be a story big enough for FBN to consider abandoning Imus.

Well today we got an answer, sort of. FBN did dump out of Imus – when exactly I don’t know – to launch Varney and Company early in order to cover yesterday’s Stock Market calamity.

ICN says it’s about time and it should do so more often. Let’s be clear here, I’m not a fan of Imus taking up cable news real estate, whether it was on MSNBC for over a decade or now on FBN. It undermined MSNBC’s brand and now it’s undermining FBN’s. Whatever juice FBN gets out of Imus it sews seeds of confusion for business news junkies in the mornings, particularly since FBN has continued to beef up its on air talent with hires like Stossel and Gasparino. So it’s refreshing to see FBN act like a business network in the pre-market hours, if only for one day.

FBN Changes

Posted in FBN, In Depth on April 24, 2010 by icn2

According to a tipster starting Monday FBN will begin airing cut-ins called the “Fox Business Brief” at the top and bottom of the hour during market hour. Not exactly sure why FBN needs to be doing business headlines at the top and bottom of the hour, but okay…