Among the array of findings in the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2014 report is this statistic: 15.5 percent. That’s the drop in the daytime audience of cable news channel MSNBC.
Or, better said, crater.
The Erik Wemple Blog spent much of 2013 laser-focused on MSNBC’s daytime product and wrote up a long-form analysis at year’s end. We found a lot of panel discussions that lean left; tons of volunteer lefty blather; and not nearly enough reporting from the NBC News folks that MSNBC can summon for segments. So the double-digit audience reduction comes as little surprise to this critic.
MSNBC has shaken things up a touch since then, shipping out Martin Bashir at the 4 p.m. slot, replacing him with the energetic Alex Wagner and dropping Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid into the afternoon rotation as well. After one day of watching, the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley concluded, “MSNBC is not really ready to alter its basic news formula.”
Ripping up the template is no easy matter at a place like MSNBC. Move away from “analysis,” as MSNBC President Phil Griffin likes to call the network’s progressive tilt, and you risk duplicating the up-the-middle approach of CNN, which can get tedious. Move farther to the left, and you get hammered by the critics. What fun.
MSNBC’s bad numbers in daytime are particularly noteworthy when considering that Fox News improved in this category (2 percent) as did CNN (12 percent). The three networks, according to Pew, are dividing up a total daytime audience of about 2 million viewers. Let’s just suppose that on a given day, MSNBC corrals about a third of that total, say, 660,000 viewers. That averages out to about 13,200 viewers per state. All those pundits who move mountains for a daytime appearance on cable news, in other words, may want to think about getting some work done instead.
The chart at the top of this post depicts trends for prime-time viewership, the pride of the cable-news world. It provides important context for all of our posts about the cable-news wars — sure, there is a cutthroat competition among these networks, but for a shrinking audience. Peer Jack Shafer of Reuters took note of the diving line back in 2012, writing, “Bill O’Reilly? Peaked. Chris Matthews? Peaked. Anderson Cooper? Peaked. Democratic Party outrage over what Fox News said about the president? Peaked. Maddow, Hannity, O’Donnell, Sharpton? Peaked, peaked, peaked, peaked.”