NBC News Boss Admits: Viewers Come to MSNBC for 'Personalities,' So We Lose to CNN in News Events

Marisa Guthrie of The Hollywood Reporter landed an interview with Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, who is in charge not only of NBC News, but CNBC, MSNBC, and their websites.

Fili-Krushel admitted that MSNBC loses to CNN in breaking news situations because “Viewers are coming for MSNBC’s personalities,” and also touted that newly hired 25-year-old host Ronan Farrow “can go from Syria to Kim Kardashian and be credible, and he’s got a huge social following.” This came up in a discussion of MSNBC rating dips:

THR: Do MSNBC's ratings dips during slow political news cycles worry you?

FILI-KRUSHEL: [MSNBC president] Phil Griffin and I have talked a lot about how it's a balancing act: Viewers are coming for MSNBC's personalities, and CNN definitely gets the bump during breaking news. But we have to play in both spaces. When Phil was quoted as saying we don't do breaking news, I know if he could have [taken it back], he would have.

THR: He [Griffin] also recently hired Ronan Farrow, who doesn't have a lot of TV experience.

FILI-KRUSHEL: In television, you create your own stars. We're not going to throw him right up on his own show -- it will be gradual. But it's no surprise that news skews a little older. Part of it is trying to appeal to a broader swath of people. Ronan can go from Syria to Kim Kardashian and be credible, and he's got a huge social following. He's great for MSNBC, and I think there are places where we can use him on NBC News as well.

Speaking of personalities (and people whose personalities grate), Fili-Krushel was asked about the decline of “Meet the Press,” albeit with no mention of David Gregory:

THR: Meet the Press hit a 21-year ratings low this past summer. Is it frustrating that the media focuses so heavily on ratings?

FILI-KRUSHEL: The Sunday shows are about shedding light on policy issues and analysis. We all want bragging rights. But we feel good about the show.

That's faint praise. Guthrie also asked about how NBC News handled the announced-and-then-dropped Hillary Clinton movie project at NBC:

THR: Did NBC's entertainment division warn you it was developing a miniseries about Hillary Clinton?

FILI-KRUSHEL: We are all colleagues, so we all know what's going on. After the whole thing broke, [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt called and said, "I'm sorry." And I was like: "You have to do what works for entertainment. It will cause us some issues in Washington, but I wouldn't expect you to tell me what I can't do."
 
THR: What did you think when NBC News' Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd criticized the miniseries so publicly?

FILI-KRUSHEL: You hate when you become your own story, but you cannot have a news division that is not independent. You will have no credibility, no trust. And I look at this as a public trust. When I was at Time Warner, [then-chairman and CEO] Dick Parsons got a call from Madonna because of a piece in People magazine. She was like, "You control that magazine." And he said, "No, they are journalists, and they take that role very seriously." I've lived this for years. It's just the way it is.

So we’re to believe that NBC in the Obama years, led by Bowing Brian Williams, not to mention MSNBC, is “independent,” or else there is “no credibility, no trust”?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis