MSNBC is leaning downwards.
It’s ratings are tumbling while Fox News remains in first place and CNN is climbing out of the cable news ratings basement. And the rumblings are now making it into news reports such as this one: a key reason for the MSNBC decline is the weak showing of All in With Chris Hayes.
Many viewers are tuning out All In:
HLN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Jodi Arias trial has had substantial ratings legs. Surging around the time of the May 8 verdict, the network notched an extremely rare monthly victory: It topped MSNBC in total day and primetime. And with CNN posting its second consecutive month as a distant primetime runner-up to Fox News Channel, MSNBC is in a very precarious fourth place.
Averaging 539,000 viewers in primetime and 175,000 viewers in the adults 25-54 demographic, MSNBC suffered double-digit drops from last May — down a respective 20 and 19 percent. Losses were less substantial in total day, down 10 percent to an average 346,000 viewers and down 7 percent to 115,000 adults 25-54, while all other nets pulled growth in multiple categories.
The soft start for All In With Chris Hayes has not helped. Hayes, down 32 percent in total viewers from The Ed Show last May, has offered a poor lead-in for MSNBC’s primetime flagship, The Rachel Maddow Show, at 9 p.m. The show delivered its lowest-rated month since it debuted in September 2008 (717,000 total viewers) and its second lowest with adults 25-54 (210,000). Maddow was topped by typical time slot victor Sean Hannity and CNN’s Piers Morgan.
Why has Hayes (let’s simply say it) bombed in that slot? Shows can re-calibrate so don’t count the talented writer and refreshingly thoughtful cable show host out, but it could be due to a couple of reasons. His show doesn’t seem to be as quick to jump on the breaking news and join in on the pack punditry that charges much of how cable news, talk radio and the blogosphere operate.
And when Hayes got the spot, some reports suggested that MSNBC’s in effect demoting the older Ed Schultz (who does a weekend show) to try and attract a younger, more thoughtful, less overtly partisan kind of viewer. That could be the case. But Hayes and MSNBC at times seemed to assume they have an audience for that show when they had to BUILD an audience for that show — which might mean a bolder kind of show, at least for the first six or eight months.
Plus there is this: Schultz may indeed be typical of the baby boomer type talk show host but this time on the left (years ago he started out as a more conservative talker), but his passion gained him a loyal following among Democratic partisans. How many of loyal Ed Show viewers decided to skip the Hayes time slot out of loyalty?
And Maddow? I’m in the minority on her here:
Yes, she is highly intelligent and she does do her show by a different drummer, but it can be grating to hear her repeat the same idea or fact reworded five times or slowly slide into a story. She repeats reworded the same idea or fact five times of slowly sides into a story. On a story, she may slowly slide and repeat the same idea or fact not once or twice or three or four times but five times. Five times (you get the idea..The idea you get…Idea, you get it..).
If reporters use an “inverted pyramid,” too often Maddow uses a pyramid. I bet her ratings would go up if she tries to get to the point.
But, clearly, there is a shake up cable viewership going on. For instance in the case of HLN:
But the biggest percentage gains belong to HLN. The network posted its best May ever, coming in second in total day and third in primetime. Afternoon interest in Arias had the network up 111 percent to an average 494,000 viewers and up 90 percent to 175,000 in the demo during total day. Primetime saw total viewership climb 91 percent to 624,000 viewers and 97 percent to 209,000 adults 25-54.
These numbers can change in a few months.
But for now it’s clear: Hayes’ program needs to make a few changes and whatever CNN is doing is showing some steady results. Fox News? It has its built in, fully captured and captivated partisan and ideological viewership and delivers the expected product to them (and its advertisers) in the expected way — while CNN and MSNBC struggle for second place niche and grapple with identity crises.
Meanwhile, HLN — unrecognizable since the days of Ted Turner when it was a serious Headline News channel doing an almost looped 30 minute newscast– looks to the next trial.
Will the Trayvon Martin case help continue HLN’s upward spiral?
UPDATE: Some chunks from the New York Time’s respected media reporter Bill Carter’s story:
The prime-time ratings for CNN, for example, jumped 97 percent among the viewers it makes money on — those ages 25 to 54, whom news advertisers seek to reach; among all viewers, the increase was still 70 percent. Those improvements came in comparison to the same month a year ago, when CNN was experiencing some of the worst ratings in its history, so some of that climb is attributable simply to reversing a historically bad trend.
But CNN has clearly taken advantage of its continuing appeal to viewers who come to the television when big news is breaking. May represents the second consecutive month when CNN was able to overtake MSNBC among both those valued viewers and total viewers. It was the first time that CNN finished ahead of MSNBC two months in a row in those categories since June 2009.
Even worse for MSNBC, it actually finished fourth in May, trailing HLN and the blanket Jodi Arias coverage. In prime time, HLN averaged 624,000 total viewers — up 91 percent from last year; the 209,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 group represented an increase of 97 percent.
The news about Fox News is that it did quite well — but still has a problem with younger viewers:
Fox News also had a strong month in total viewership, adding to its traditionally huge edge, with nearly two million viewers in prime time, almost 300,000 more than last year, a 17 percent increase. Somewhat surprisingly, Fox News was still down in the younger-viewer category. Fox dropped 6 percent among the 25-to-54 viewers to 308,000 — easily a winning total.
But the Booby Prize unquestionably goes to MSNBC:
Individually, MSNBC’s hosts suffered striking ratings declines. MSNBC’s biggest star, Rachel Maddow, fell sharply to one of her lowest performances since she joined the network in 2008. She was off by 21 percent in total viewers and 22 percent in the 25-to-54 group. She trailed Piers Morgan of CNN in both categories: he was up 79 percent in viewers, and 101 percent in the advertiser-preferred viewers. (Even bigger increases went to Anderson Cooper’s 8 p.m. show: up 99 percent in total viewers and 119 percent in the important age category.)
Ms. Maddow was certainly not helped by the change MSNBC made in her lead-in. The new 8 p.m. show on MSNBC, hosted by Chris Hayes, had a precipitous falloff of 32 percent in total viewers from the former occupant at that hour, “The Ed Show,” a year ago. Mr. Hayes’s drop among the 25-to-54 viewers was less severe, 13 percent.
Hayes is clearly liked by many critics and by MSNBC’s top brass. But a 32 percent drop is dreadful in broadcasting and you have to wonder if he was in his 60s and heavy and been around for a while if he wouldn’t be demoted and sent to do a weekend show.
Wait: isn’t that what happened to baby boomer style talk show host Ed Schultz, who had 32 more viewership.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.