Get ready to hear it. Those on the right will say I told you so because no one wants to hear liberals and liberal bias. Those on the left will jump through hoops to try and rationalize or defend it, or turn the topic to Fox News. But the bottom line is that MSNBC is going down by double digits. Sometimes if you lean forward you can fall flat on your face.
But before you read the predictable left and right attack/defense points, it might be useful to make a few observations about MSNBC that have nothing to do with it’s political position. First, the facts from TV Newser:
MSNBC continued its rough 2013 in the ratings, continuing to lose significant audience from 2012. The problems were particularly prevalent in primetime, with some shows losing close to -50% of viewers
That’s a meltdown. MORE:
Primetime (Mon-Sun): 520,000 Total Viewers / 173,000 A25-54
Total Day (Mon-Sun): 348,000 Total Viewers / 119,000 A25-54
Compared to August 2012, MSNBC was down -28% in total viewers and -32% in the A25-54 demographic in total day and -36% and -32%, respectively, in primetime. MSNBC was the only cable channel to see viewership growth last August, thanks in part to live coverage from the Olympics.
“Morning Joe” was down -9% in total viewers and -17% in the A25-54 demographic compared to the same month last year, which actually was a better result than many of the programs that came later in the day.
Morning Joe continues to be a kind of boutique political show: it’s conversation is a lot more intelligent than some of the conversation on some other cable shows and it’s a reportedly a favorite of the movers and shakers in Washington, as well as many in media.
This does not surprise me at all:
In primetime, “The Rachel Maddow Show” posted all-time low ratings in total and demo viewers, down -43% and -47%, respectively. “The Last Word” posted a low in total viewers, losing -40% of its total viewer audience and -42% of its demo audience. at 8 PM, “All in” was down -48% and -42% in total and demo viewers, respectively, placing behind CNN for the hour.
I’m not surprised because I have a hard time getting through a Maddow show and it is NOT because of her politics. #1: She repeats a concept three or four times. Three or four times she’ll repeat a concept. The concept will be repeated three or four times. #2 Journalists and many cable show hosts use a classic “inverted pyramid” of information — with the main fact first; Maddows uses a PYRAMID, slowly moving towards the lead of her opening story offering a faucet-like drip of facts before she gets to the main story and the point. #3: Some of her delivery and intonation has become as predictable now as the tiresome GOP rip-and-read partisan Sean Hannity, or as tiresome as Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comments” delivered with outrage became when it was clear it was hard to keep count of his “Special Comments” since he did them so often.
In dayside, MSNBC was down double digits in pretty much every hour in total and demo viewers, including 6 PM’s “PoliticsNation,” which was down -31% and -37% in total and demo viewers, and 3 PM’s “The Cycle,” which was down -15% and -18% in total and demo viewers.
Politics Nation is almost 100 percent for Democratic liberals and “The Cycle” has the feeling like a back up or fill in show for a regular show, put into the slot hurriedly. It’s like the MSNBC farm team.
One of the few programs to improve year to year was “The Ed Show” on Saturday and Sunday, which was up both days in total viewers, and in the demo on Saturday. This may help explain why the channel replaced the 5 PM edition of “Hardball” with the former weekend program.
Not surprising. The reason: unlike many other MSNBC hosts, Schultz is a broadcaster with many years of experience on the radio (in differing ideological incarnations). He knows how to pace a show in the same way Rush Limbaugh (like his views or not) is a broadcast pro and knows how to pace a show. Air American had the same problem: it had personalities as hosts but many had not been career broadcasters. There is often a difference and a show done by a broadcast or news professional tends to wear better.
MSNBC hosts tend to play defense for Barack Obama, much as Fox News played defense for George W. Bush (or any Republican at the head of a GOP ticket). This may not play well with some viewers disappointed in Obama, whose poll numbers are down from his post-election high.
Expect spin from each side on this, but the ratings are probably due to a variety of issues that have less to do with the politics of viewers than the way shows are presented and the styles of its hosts.
It’s fixable but could mean some adjustments in shows or juggling in the future of its talent.
PLUS: if Republicans overreach (which is most assuredly not impossible) and it seems the U.S. is on the verge of a government shut down or debt limit default, MSNBC could regain some of these viewers.
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.