MSNBC Still in Freefall, Loses 22 Percent of Viewers From Last Summer

The all-liberal all-the-time cable “news” channel continues to lose its audience as MSNBC's ratings were down by nearly one-fourth during the past three months from the same period in 2012, according to preliminary data from the Nielsen Company that was compiled from the start of summer through last Sunday.

Making things even worse for the “Lean Forward” channel is the resurgence of the Cable News Network, which had a 21 percent rise in ratings that almost caught up with or surpassed the numbers for MSNBC in several key categories.

In an article written for the media industry publication Variety, Rick Kissell noted that MSNBC drew an average audience of 540,000, barely ahead of CNN, which attracted 533,000 viewers as part of a 21 percent increase in its ratings.

However, the channel that made the biggest gain was the lowly rated HLN, which was formerly known as the Headline News channel and saw a jump of 29 percent in its audience during the same period.

Of course, most cable channels lose viewers during the summer vacation season, and this year saw an extra drop due to the fact that last summer was part of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Kissell wrote that “strong interest in the George Zimmerman trial and improved performances for shows” gave CNN “a ratings surge this summer” in which every prime-time program improved its ratings, with Anderson Cooper 360 up the most due to an increase of 27 percent in total viewers and 36 percent in the important demographic of adults from 25 to 54 years of age.

With network president Jeff Zucker at the helm, CNN has made gains in other time slots as well, Kissell noted. Along with the moderate success of the early morning show New Day, The Lead With Jake Tapper at 4 p.m. is now averaging 410,000 viewers -- up 28 percent from last year.

The ratings bounce put Tapper's program ahead of MSNBC Live, which has 354,000 viewers and is down 17 percent from last summer; and HLN's Now in America, with its audience of 321,000, up 34 percent.

As expected, Fox News Channel dominates the cable news network ratings, with an average of 1.85 million viewers in prime time. Even though that's down five percent from last summer, it's still more than twice the number of any competitors.

Another gauge of Fox News's popularity is the fact that among all cable networks in prime time this summer, FNC ranked seventh in total viewers. That's behind such powerhouses as USA and TNT, but far ahead of MSNBC, which is listed in 33rd place; CNN, which is ranked just behind as 34th; and HLN, which is in the 39th slot.

Kissell then discussed another aspect of the prime-time schedule:

In the adult 25-54 demo, it’s a closer four-network news race, with FNC on top (272,000), followed by MSNBC (186,000), CNN (178,000) and HLN (159,000).

In adults 25-54 total day, Fox News (208,000, down 15 percent) is still comfortably on top, he added, “although both CNN (134,000, up 37 percent) and HLN (125,000, up 28 percent) have closed the gap.”

NewsBusters has been reporting on the liberal cable channel's ratings woes for several years. In one of the first posts on the topic during February of 2011, associate editor Noel Sheppard declared that “MSNBC's Ratings Are Collapsing.”

Part of the problem was the unexpected departure of liberal firebrand Keith Olbermann, who moved to Al Gore's Current Network. That move left MSNBC with a vacant 8 p.m. slot, which they filled by moving The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell to that time.

That move never made sense to me, since 8 o'clock is just too early to have “the last word.”

O'Donnell returned to his original slot after the network hired radio talk show personality Ed Schultz to host The Ed Show. Despite that change, the channel's ratings continued to decline, leading the network executives to move Schultz to the weekend wasteland and replace him with Chris Hayes, whom they hoped would hold the previous audience and attract younger viewers as well.

That never happened, and 2013 has been a long year for the liberal channel. In mid-May, MSNBC attracted its lowest ratings in seven years, then fell to fourth place in news networks behind Fox News, CNN and HLN.

In June, the channel delivered its worst quarterly prime-time showing among total viewers and adults from 25 to 54 years of age since 2007. One month later, MSNBC finished last in ratings for the third consecutive month.

Then on Tuesday, the channel announced that Ed Schultz would return to its weekday schedule by taking over the 5 p.m. slot currently held by the first airing of Hardball With Chris Matthews.

After a period of such low ratings, it would make sense for MSNBC to overhaul its schedule and bring in “new blood.” Instead, as liberals are fond of doing, the program hosts have decided they're not liberal enough and must move further to the political left while getting angrier by the day.

Will that strategy pull the “news” channel out of its ratings doldrum? It hasn't worked in the past, and it reminds me of the saying about people who keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Randy Hall
Randy Hall