Pew Report: MSNBC Lost More Viewers, Revenue in 2013 Than Fox News, CNN Combined

According to a new report released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, the liberal MSNBC channel's prime-time audience fell 24 percent to 619,500 during the last calendar year, more than the Cable News Network -- which dropped 13 percent to a viewership of 543,000 – and the Fox News Channel, which lost 6 percent but still easily held onto first place with 1.75 million viewers.

As if that weren't bad enough, the “Lean Forward” network's revenue in 2013 lost 2 percent to total only $475 million. During the same period, CNN's income grew 2 percent to reach $1.11 billion, and the revenue for Fox News increased 5 percent to a tidy sum of $1.89 billion.

From January through December of 2013, “the cable news audience, by nearly all measures, declined,” the Journalism Project staff noted. “The combined median prime-time viewership of the three major news channels -- CNN, Fox News and MSNBC -- dropped 11 percent to about 3 million, the smallest it has been since 2007.”

Meanwhile, the daytime audience for cable news “was more stable, holding flat at about 2 million viewers across the three news channels,” the staff stated. “CNN (up 12 percent) and Fox (up 2 percent) actually experienced growth,” which “was counterbalanced by more deep losses at MSNBC (down 15.5 percent).”

In simpler terms, MSNBC is enduring nearly twice the viewership loss suffered by CNN and four times that sustained by the Fox News Channel. Those amounts are even more graphic considering how few viewers CNN and MSNBC have to begin with.

All three networks benefit greatly from licensing fees, which cable channels charge to providers in exchange for the right to carry their programming. Sixty-four percent of CNN's revenue is derived from such costs. At the same time, Fox receives 58 percent, while MSNBC gets about 51 percent of its income from this source.

This is how such low-rated networks as CNN and MSNBC survive. They would be unable to function at the level they do with just advertising. Bundled cable packages that force millions of Americans to buy channels they would not pay for otherwise is what keeps such left-wing networks afloat.

The release of the poll inspired Dylan Byers, a media reporter for the Politico website, to tell the story of the “Lean Forward” network “in a nutshell.” They're in trouble:

It rose to prominence on its criticism of George W. Bush, peaked during Barack Obama's historic 2008 campaign, and, by criticizing Republicans and championing liberal causes, sustained its viewership in the years that followed.

Until now.

“Conventional wisdom has it that cable news doesn't have much of a future,” Byers continued. “The audience is old and getting older, the television landscape is growing more and more fractured, appointment viewing is becoming a thing of the past, etc.”

In addition, “Obama's presidency has turned into a slog, and MSNBC isn't compelling,” he declared. “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.”

So what is Byers' solution to the liberal channel's downward spiral? He asserted:

2016 will help MSNBC, as it will help all cable news networks, but that's not a long-term business strategy. The network needs to figure out what it's going to do in the off years.

There are a few powerful brands that are worth maintaining -- Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Morning Joe -- but the rest is in need of a restart.

While providing another view of the cable channel's predicament, Erik Wemple -- media blogger for the Washington Post – claimed that he had “spent much of 2013 laser-focused on MSNBC’s daytime product.”


As a result, “the network's double-digit audience reduction came as no surprise” to him because “ripping up the template is no easy matter at a place like MSNBC.”

“Move away from 'analysis,'” which company 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,” Wemple asserted. “Move farther to the left, and you get hammered by the critics. What fun.

While MSNBC might get a small boost as the November midterm election draws ever closer, the network will then have no choice but to leap feet first into the next presidential contest. Can they maintain the interest of liberals until November of 2016, or will only Fox News and CNN remain to report on that battle for occupancy of the White House?

Randy Hall
Randy Hall