MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who has built the channel into a left-wing political network that is basically an arm of the Democratic Party, admitted to The New York Times that MSNBC is “not the place” for breaking news, adding that it’s not their brand.
Griffin’s admission wasn’t really a big surprise. MSNBC’s primetime ratings have sunk to six-year lows, as breaking news from the Boston Marathon bombing to the Jodi Arias trial have sent viewers to Fox News, CNN and even HLN, which managed to beat MSNBC in May. As a result, MSNBC finished in fourth place among cable news channels for that month.
But it’s not just breaking news that is vexing the former number two network.
Feeling emboldened after having finished ahead of CNN for the last two years, Griffin decided to tinker with his primetime lineup by replacing Ed Schultz with Chris Hayes. The idea was that Hayes would attract a younger audience and provide a better lead-in for Rachel Maddow.
But based on the ratings for the last couple of months, it appears that Griffin has badly miscalculated. Viewership for Hayes’ show was down a whopping 32 percent in May—compared to a year ago when Schultz occupied the time slot—while losing 13 percent of viewers in the 25-54 demographic that Griffin thought Hayes would excel in. That in turn has led to lower ratings for Maddow and the rest of the primetime lineup.
While I’m no fan of Ed Schultz or MSNBC, I don’t understand why Griffin would replace a well-established show like Schultz’s—which had decent ratings—with Hayes, whose show aired in the Saturday TV wasteland. Griffin spent years trying to make MSNBC somewhat competitive with Fox News, but this move made matters worse, not better.
It looks like Griffin let what success he had go to his head. As a result, he may have doomed MSNBC to a third place or worse finish for the foreseeable future.