The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

MSNBC and Obama Tanking Together

Posted on | March 27, 2014 | 34 Comments

Two headlines:

MSNBC is in serious trouble

Poll: Obama’s disapproval
rating hits a new high

Washington Post

Hating Republicans is a poor substitute for sound policy, and it’s also not an adequate rationale for a news organization:

In a world where liberals wanted to be outraged by George Bush every night, or celebrate the rise of Barack Obama, MSNBC had a theory of the case. But now Obama’s presidency has turned into a slog, and MSNBC isn’t compelling. Prime time is just hours of what often seems like feigned outrage. And the daytime strategy — giving shows to kids in their 20s and 30s, in an apparent bid to reach the youths — is comically bad, and rendered absurd at every commercial break when the catheter ads come on.

Everybody’s chortling at MSNBC’s misfortune — Instapundit jokes that both of MSNBC’s viewers will “age out of the demographic next year” — but it’s important that conservatives not miss the real lesson here. Fox News has succeeded by offering an alternative to biased liberal news coverage, but despite being No. 1 in cable news, the market demand seems to have peaked:

In 2013, the cable news audience, by nearly all measures, declined. The combined median prime-time viewership of the three major news channels — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — dropped 11% to about 3 million, the smallest it has been since 2007. The Nielsen Media Research data show that the biggest decline came at MSNBC, which lost nearly a quarter (24%) of its prime-time audience. CNN, under new management, ended its fourth year in third place, with a 13% decline in prime time. Fox, while down 6%, still drew more viewers (1.75 million) than its two competitors combined (619,500 at MSNBC and 543,000 at CNN).

By comparison, despite declining ratings, the three major broadcast evening news programs still reach much larger audiences: NBC Nightly News 8.4 million, ABC World News 7.7 million and CBS Evening News 6.5 million — a combined average nightly viewership of more than 22 million in 2013, about seven times larger than the 3 million total reached by the cable news networks.

That is to say, while Alternative Media have risen and Establishment Media have declined, Establishment Media still matters, and will continue to matter for the foreseeable future. MSNBC made a bet during the Bush years that there was a market for a cable network that was the antithesis of Fox News, and that bet helped MSNBC vault past CNN into second place among cable networks, but the momentum — which took MSNBC from about 350,000 primetime viewers in 2006 to about 750,000 in 2012 — couldn’t be sustained.

Conservatives who watch Fox News to get pro-GOP happy talk are much more numerous than people who tune into MSNBC to get anti-GOP angry talk, but that is cold comfort to Republicans when the Democrat in the White House was able to get re-elected in large measure because MSNBC actually reflects the private opinions of the people who produce mass-market news at the major networks.