“If you can't beat 'em, join 'em” seems to be the new motto of Phil Griffin, president of the liberal and low-rated MSNBC cable channel, who is trying to attract young consumers “who get their news via digital means.”
The online initiative -- which will be known as “Shift by MSNBC” -- will contain 14 new series ranging from The Briefing, a political program hosted on Mondays and Fridays by Luke Russert, son of the late Meet the Press icon Tim Russert; to Krystal Clear, a show centered on issues younger women face that will be anchored by Krystal Ball, the co-host of the channel's daytime The Cycle show.
Other entries in the new slate of programs will include Out There, which will be hosted by Way Too Early anchor Thomas Roberts and will focus on issues related to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender viewers; and So Popular! with transgender rights activist Janet Mock “looking at celebrity and pop-culture news through a progressive lens.”
The new initiative comes after MSNBC saw its total viewership fall 13 percent during the past month and its audience in the important demographic of people from 25 to 54 years old drop 16 percent, according to Nielsen television ratings.
The channel has long been mired in third place behind CNN and the dominant Fox News Channel. Occasionally, even HLN -- CNN's old Headline News network -- has topped MSNBC's ratings.
In October, the New York Times reported that MSNBC averaged 392,000 in key demographic viewers per night in the first quarter of 2009. With this year's third quarter, that number was down to 125,000, a loss of two-thirds of the cable channel's audience.
Griffin explained the new effort by stating:
We’ve got to keep evolving. We are going to broaden the aperture, but keep the sensibility. Times change and evolve.
We had great success in 2006 to 2012, 2013, with our sensibility; but I think now, with the media exploding, we’ve got to adjust a little bit, too, and figure out new ways to grab audiences.
“Shift” users can tune in to various programs between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. At other times, viewers will see a loop of programming. Most new shows are likely to run once a week, not every day, and MSNBC will also broadcast documentaries and live coverage of events when warranted.
If the new schedule becomes popular with people who do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV and put roots down in the broader MSNBC community, its content and personnel could gradually make their way to the cable television network. “We just want to get people to watch it and see what works,” Griffin said.
In addition, Josh Barro, who writes for the New York Times, will host Three Cents, a program based on economics. Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC News staffer who has gained notice in recent months for his Middle East reporting, will anchor Roadmap, a show that examines the factors behind complicated stories like the rise of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
Other programs will deal with immigration (Changing America, hosted by Maria Teresa Kumar); the “green” lifestyle (Greenhouse with Tony Dokoupil); and interviews with policy wonks (Nerding Out with Dorian Warren). And Richard Wolffe, executive editor of MSNBC.com, will host a show on books.
However, what viewers will not see is original programming during MSNBC’s prime time or the network’s prime-time TV hosts performing additional duties on “Shift.” That is deliberate, said Wolffe. MSNBC does not want to offer content that will compete with such stalwarts as Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow.
“Prime time is premium,” Wolffe stated.
The new effort comes as Griffin has attempted to identify MSNBC as a home for the progressive community by enlisting hosts like Jose Diaz-Balart and Ronan Farrow to lure a new activist generation and emerging American demographics.
“Shift” represents “a way to innovate, do things differently and find out what works,” said Griffin, adding: “I don’t want to call it a farm system. It’s a place where we get to experiment, and I guarantee you, stuff is going to pop.”
To get word out about the new shows, MSNBC is likely to use “Shift” hosts and topics in segments on some of its programming, said Wolffe. He envisions a segment about sports cropping up on All in With Chris Hayes or Morning Joe. The channel will also use social media to draw attention to the new offerings using the hashtag #ShiftHappens.
With a sense of humor like that, it's just possible that the new schedule might “shift” some young viewers to its new online schedule.