Politico’s Hadas Gold writes that Ari Melber has been named to MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent…
Melber’s appointment comes amid a larger effort to shakeup dayside programming at the network, though an MSNBC spokesperson was quick to say that Melber’s new role is no sign of changes for “The Cycle.” Like many of MSNBC’s daytime programs, “The Cycle’s” ratings have suffered significant declines. On one day in March, the program had fewer viewers than Al Jazeera America, though a spokesperson pointed out that last Friday the show had 75,000 viewers in the demo, their best since January.
Thus begets the question: If Melber’s appointment is no sign of changes for “The Cycle”, how does this move the needle in terms of the “larger effort to shakeup dayside programming”? It doesn’t. Mediaite’s Joe Concha loves the move…
Talk to anyone who watches MSNBC–and it’s understood the number of those actually watching continues to drop as the network endures its toughest stretch in at least a decade–and many will tell you that its most unsung and therefore underrated host is the 34-year-old Melber. What makes the Michigan and Cornell Law grad stand out? From my perspective, it’s quite simple: his genuine curiosity to find the why and the how behind the stories he covers.
Concha inadvertently underscores the problem MSNBC faces while at the same time showing why Melber’s promotion, while maybe deserved, isn’t going to contribute to solving it.
MSNBC’s problem is equal parts perception, momentum, and genuine format rejection. You can’t separate the three because they all tie in together.
The tune out…the initial tune out which started a couple of years ago…was textbook format rejection. Too many viewers were no longer buying into what Phil Griffin was trying to sell; a network built around POV analysis fronted by young cookie cutter wonkish progressives. While such a format might have worked if offset by a counter strategy that offered something different, Griffin tried to cover too much of MSNBC with it and that kind of uniformity was rejected by the viewers.
That rejection created a perception problem…that MSNBC was in trouble. It was a perception firmly grounded in reality but it was a perception that took on the form of conventional wisdom; a conventional wisdom which got driven home by articles in the media. This in turn created downward momentum pressure. No longer was MSNBC being trumpeted as the hip network of the wonky left…the kind of positive message the network tried like hell to cultivate and emphasize. Now the network was being talked about as the boring network where one wonky left show followed another.
That message has done as much damage to MSNBC’s viewership as the initial tune out did. It re-enforced a downward ratings spiral the network has yet to stem the tide on. And it has spread throughout MSNBC’s lineup and has contributed to trouble on Morning Joe, a show which still functions nearly the same as it used to but is now viewed as “out of step”. That’s what perception and momentum can do to a show through no fault of its own.
This is the cable news equivalent of a bank run. A perfectly healthy bank, or in this case a marginally healthy bank, is suddenly viewed as unhealthy. What happens next? Depositors withdraw their funds and now the bank is in fact unhealthy and it stands a very real chance of collapsing. Same thing here. Enough articles come out saying MSNBC is screwed up and people start saying, “Why do I want to be associated with it?” Perception creates momentum and momentum, in this case negative momentum, speeds up tune out.
CNN faced a similar problem just a few years ago. CNN’s programming wasn’t nearly as bad, it’s news delivery not as terrible, and yet the perception and momentum was out there that it was. So things continued to slide until Jeff Zucker came along and changed the equation with a radical rethink. While I’m still not a fan of the strategy of using what amounts to infotainment instead of news as its bridgehead, the strategy worked. It broke the downward pressure. We can argue about whether CNN is cool again or not but that’s a better alternative than the storyline of “CNN is broken” which the network had to contend with previously.
What MSNBC needs now is a similar kind of wholesale rethink of the network’s focus which can break that downward momentum “MSNBC is boring” message pressure. MSNBC needs to think big and think radical. Just as CNN did.
But we haven’t seen that, at least not yet. What we have seen are changes on the fringes. Cancelling the low hanging fruit shows like Farrow and Reid’s while preserving the heart of the network’s wonky POV analysis lineup. MSNBC has not thown in the towel, it has just waved it around a bit. It’s tinkering 101.
Does anyone think Hayes’ show has any chance of turning things around? I mean does anyone outside of MSNBC think it? Yet, there it still is. Are we reading at all about big turn arounds for The Cycle or Alex Wagner’s show? No, we are not. Is NBC still showing the same level of confidence in Maddow that it’s still putting her on the air outside of MSNBC like it would just a year or two ago. No, it isn’t.
This is a classic holding action. MSNBC is still betting the farm on a system that brought it to where it currently is. It’s rearranging the deck chairs instead of fixing the hole in the side of the ship. The latest deck chair to be moved is Ari Melber’s.