Category Archives: MSNBC

NBC News Losing Lead

By Christopher B. Daly

I don’t write much about network television news, because I never worked in that part of the news business. But a story in today’s Times about the challenges piling up at NBC News prompt some thoughts, from the point of view of a consumer.

First, some context: NBC was the original pioneer of news on television, thanks to its mid-20th Century chief executive, David Sarnoff. A Russian immigrant, Sarnoff had the kind of rise in broadcasting that Pulitzer had had in newspapers. He made NBC Radio so powerful in the 1930s that the government pressured it to divide in half in the 1940s. Going forward, Sarnoff pushed hard for NBC to add television to its remaining radio division. In both media, NBC showcased news as both a loss leader and as a way to impress the FCC with its fulfillment of the obligation to broadcast “in the public interest.”

Flash forward: NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams is the top-rated evening news show on TV (far ahead of anything on cable). Meet the Press with David Gregory is the top serious Sunday morning interview show. The Today Show is the top “news” show in the morning. But the daily programs, both morning and evening, are hearing footsteps. (This is not to mention Rock Center with Brian Williams, which appears to be a vanity program destined for cancellation soon.)

IMHO, the problems NBC is having in the morning and the evening have different sources. In the evening, the problem appears to be Brian Williams. With each passing year in the anchor chair (the one once shared by Huntley and Brinkley), he becomes more pompous, ponderous, and insufferable. He cannot help himself from making unctuous comments on the news, or applauding his correspondents for merely workmanlike stories. His own segments, though rare, are particularly revolting — softball time-shares with celebs or heads of state, wounded vets, found dogs, etc. The Nightly News has a pretty impressive team of correspondents and camera-persons. Williams should shut up and let them do their jobs.

In the morning, the Today Show has figured out a way to generate $200 million  a year in profit, which goes directly to the bottom line of NBCUniversal, which means it goes 51% to Comcast and 49% to GE. The show has come a long way from its debut in 1952, when it was cooked up by NBC exec Pat Weaver (father of Sigourney). The original host was Dave Garroway, who shared the responsibilities with a pet chimp named J. Fred Muggs.

From what I observe by watching the program a lot, the formula seems to be this: forget about men, who apparently do not watch television in the morning; instead, appeal to women with a daily diet of the stuff that NBC presumes is of interest to women: domestic abuse nightmares, celebrity marriage stories, missing children, missing blonde women, the British royals, recipes, fashion, and all the rest. (All of which has made me a convert to Morning Joe on another NBC channel, MSNBC.)

If the Today Show wants to innovate and expand, here’s a thought: go beyond women.

And keep Ann Curry. She’s adorable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whither MSNBC?

New York Times television reporter Bill Carter has a good piece today on MSNBC — not least because he quoted me.

[Fun fact: my quote includes an odd mistake. I sent him my quote by email. I meant to write that the size of the audience is “capped” by the size of the universe of people who agree with you. But I must have made a typo, and my computer auto-corrected it to “cajoled” — which is actually nonsensical in that context. Odder still: no one caught it. Well, at least, they spelled my name right. . . ]

MSNBC Is Close to Falling to Third Place in Cable News Ratings

By 
Published: September 26, 2011

How badly has MSNBC been hurt by the loss of Keith Olbermann? Enough, apparently, to be on the verge of falling back into third place among the cable news networks.

Justin Stephens/Current TV, via Associated Press

The time slot held by Keith Olbermann lost viewers.

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Anderson Cooper’s move seems to be working for CNN.

The ratings results for the month of September show that CNN, long relegated to third place in the prime-time cable news competition, is edging its way back up, while MSNBC is moving in the other direction.

For the month, CNN averaged 257,000 viewers in prime time in the category that counts most to the networks — viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 — because that is where the advertising money goes for news programming. MSNBC was just barely ahead with 269,000 viewers. (Neither approached the leader, Fox News, with 526,000).

Both CNN and MSNBC had one especially strong night because of the Republican presidential debates. With those excluded, however, CNN beat MSNBC, 219,000 to 207,000. A year ago, when Mr. Olbermann still occupied the 8 p.m. hour, MSNBC edged CNN by 83,000 viewers, with 256,000 viewers for MSNBC to 173,000 for CNN.

The change in the September ratings was most noticeable at 8 p.m., where CNN has moved its best-known host, Anderson Cooper. The network’s performance during that hour has improved by 38 percent over last year, growing to 215,000 viewers from 156,000.

On MSNBC, meanwhile, Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 100,000 viewers from the numbers Mr. Olbermann posted last September, with 185,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, a drop of 35 percent. (Bill O’Reilly on Fox, as always, dwarfs his competitors with about three times as many viewers, 611,000.)

More ominously, the falloff for Mr. O’Donnell seems to be affecting MSNBC’s biggest name, Rachel Maddow. Her audience dropped 15 percent this year, to 245,000 from 289,000. She still beats Piers Morgan on CNN in the 9 p.m. hour, but his show has improved 18 percent over Larry King’s ratings last year, with 193,000 viewers to Mr. King’s 164,000.

MSNBC executives endured a contentious parting with Mr. Olbermann last January. Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, had a succinct answer to the question of whether the network is feeling the impact of Mr. Olbermann’s departure: “No.”

He added, “I’m confident that we will increase our ratings as politics become the dominant story over the next year.”

Mr. Olbermann is now on the air head-to-head against Mr. O’Donnell. The channel he appears on, Current TV, is not in the league of either CNN or MSNBC in terms of national profile, and his audience totals do not approach any of the other 8 p.m. competitors.

Mr. Olbermann averaged just over 50,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 measure in September, or less than 20 percent of what he attracted on MSNBC. Still, many of those 50,000 may have previously been viewers of MSNBC — and Mr. O’Donnell was 30,000 viewers behind Mr. Cooper in September.

Some industry analysts said the loss of viewers for MSNBC may have to do with strategic changes the network made in recent years.

“MSNBC may be rediscovering the downside of partisan news,” said Chris Daly, a professor of journalism at Boston University. “That is, the size of your audience is essentially cajoled by the size of the electorate that already agrees with you.”

Mr. Cooper is being compared at 8 p.m. against what was hardly a powerhouse CNN entry last year — “Rick’s List,” which featured Rick Sanchez, who was subsequently fired. But Mr. Cooper’s move to 8, which was questioned by some critics, seems to be paying off for CNN. He has made the network much more competitive in that time slot while not losing any momentum for the second show he hosts at 10 p.m.

Ken Jautz, the head of CNN’s domestic news operation, said the network had “been making changes to several hours of our programming in order to grow CNN’s audience during both breaking news and nonbreaking news periods. The fact that our prime-time audience increased this month by 49 percent is certainly gratifying.”

The replay of “Anderson Cooper 360,” which includes news updates but mostly material from the 8 p.m. show, remains CNN’s strongest hour, with 274,000 viewers, well ahead of “The Ed Show” on MSNBC with 200,000 (though both also are well behind Greta Van Susteren on Fox, who had 415,000.)


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Advocacy IN journalism

By Chris Daly 

Now comes Al Sharpton. His recent appointment as the anchor for an MSNBC program that airs at 6 p.m. raises questions about whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist. Today’s NYTimes diplomatically called him “a hybrid like no other.”

 

 

Evidence that he is a journalist:

–MSNBC hired him. End of story.

Evidence that he is not a journalist:

–He has never worked full-time as a journalist.

–He gets to the MSNBC studio at about 4:15 p.m. for his 6 p.m. show.  Hmmm. . . that would not seem to leave a whole lot of time for doing any journalism.

 

In my view, the question of whether Sharpton is a journalist or an activist is the wrong question. He is, obviously, both an activist and a journalist. So what?

There is a long tradition of activist-journalists in this country — beginning at least in the late 18th century with Thomas Paine, continuing through the 19th century with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass as well as women’s rights advocates like Susan B. Anthony, and continuing in the 20th century with muckrakers and the many “movement” journalists affiliated with activism on behalf of stopping the Vietnam War, protecting the environment, or asserting gay rights.

The question about Sharpton is: is he any good? From what I have seen of Sharpton in the past, one thing is hard to miss: he is naturally telegenic. His voice is instantly recognizable, and he seems to be in his element when people disagree. In television terms, those are important credentials.

Ultimately, the people will decide this one, by watching or not.

 

 

 

 

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