In a year-ending status memo, MSNBC President Phil Griffin doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat things for his employees. “It’s no secret that 2014 was a difficult year for the entire cable news industry and especially for msnbc,” wrote Griffin in the missive. “Technology is continuing to drive unprecedented changes across the media landscape – and we all should be taking a hard, honest look at how we need to evolve along with it.”
As Stephen Battaglio notes in the Los Angeles Times, the part about MSNBC hurting in 2014 comes straight from ratings for the pivotal 25-54 demographic: “Through Dec. 21, MSNBC averaged 169,000 prime-time viewers in the category, down 17% from 2013 and its worst performance since 2005. Fox News is averaging 302,000 for the year in the demographic, a 3% increase, while CNN is down 1% with 181,000. MSNBC is a distant second behind Fox News in overall viewers, but it’s down in that category as well.”
2014 started auspiciously for MSNBC, which rode the story of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal to good ratings and even a news break or two. News cycles, however, are fickle, and Bridgegate provided only a momentary boost for the network.
The year’s punishing numbers have apparently pushed Griffin toward some classic mediaspeak: “But these changes and challenges are a good thing for news consumers and for msnbc. They will push us harder to innovate and create fresh content that will appeal to our current audience and attract new ones. They will drive us to continuously seek out exciting talent, with different areas of expertise and perspectives. And they remind us to stay true to what we do best: covering the issues that matter to all Americans, advancing the conversation, and finding the stories that celebrate the unique spirit and strengths of our country.”
And despite the tough times and challenges ahead, Griffin noted that the network has finished 2014 “in a much stronger position than many might have expected.” He cites the following accomplishments:
*For the fifth consecutive year we are the number two cable network in prime for total viewers, and on a weekly basis, audiences are continuing to choose our hallmark programs, including Morning Joe and The Rachel Maddow Show, over CNN. We’re going to keep striving to improve on these numbers by every measure.
*Since launching our digital home just over a year ago, msnbc.com has seen tremendous growth. To date, our total views have grown by 94 percent. Our unique visitors have grown by 288 percent, and at a time when everyone is more distracted than ever, our audience wants to spend more time with us -– our average videos watched per visit has grown 52 percent.
*We continue to have the most diverse audience in cable television and were the only network to see our Hispanic audience increase over the past year. In fact, in 2014 msnbc become the top-rated cable network for Hispanic viewers 25-54 during Monday-Friday primetime -– growth that is especially crucial as we gear up for the next presidential election. For the fifth consecutive year, we were the number one cable network for African-Americans in demo and total viewers. Our African-American audience is double that of CNN’s and more than seven times that of Fox News.
*In just the past few months alone, we’ve taken bold steps to become a more integrated and nimble organization by launching the Bridge, which is already dramatically improving our ability to drive content across all platforms, and Shift, our new venture into digital programming that is already allowing us to reach new, younger audiences on a wide range of topics and experiment.
*We broke new ground by launching a multi-platform partnership with the Global Citizen campaign, showing what’s possible when we team up with an organization like the Global Poverty Project to shine a light on causes that are important to the msnbc community and empower them to make a difference. Together, we created new original reporting and content, which included special in-depth reports from the field and interviews with celebrities active in work to end poverty, and produced the first live broadcast of the Global Citizen Festival concert in Central Park. This first venture proved to be a very successful model for combining inventive programming, events, and sponsorships to raise awareness for causes that reflect our audience’s values and we’re going to expand on it moving forward.
*We have a long history of finding and nurturing great talent -– and with an eye toward 2016 –- we continued to build our next generation of top-notch journalists, across all platforms. In just over a month into his new show, Jose Diaz-Balart is already getting recognized as Mediaite’s Best New Hire of 2014. As part of his interest in in-depth reporting, Ronan Farrow recently launched a new investigative series with a look at how hospitals have put veterans at risk through faulty procedures. Since joining us as a political reporter in September, Kasie Hunt has quickly shown she’s a force heading in the next election cycle, after breaking major news across the campaign trail in our “States of Play” series. Alex Seitz-Wald joined our reporting team at msnbc.com, adding to the incredible work already being done by Irin Carmon – who was also named one of the year’s best pundits – Trymaine Lee, Benjy Sarlin, Suzy Khimm, and many more.
Griffin’s New Year’s resolution makes a lot of sense for a network addicted to political panel discussions: “We’re going to get on the road – and outside of Washington – a lot more. We’re going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans. And we’re going to use new technologies, events and creative tools to engage and mobilize our passionate audience,” he writes in the memo.