Supplemental: The New York Times ponders MSNBC!


Ponders its ratings, that is:
In this morning’s New York Times, Bill Carter does a full news report on MSNBC’s somewhat low-ish ratings.

Two important points should be made at this juncture:

First, ratings aren’t a measure of quality. A news channel could broadcast high-quality shows and get extremely low ratings.

Second, advertising revenue isn’t a measure of quality either! For reasons which go unexplained, Carter concentrates, almost exclusively, on “the key news demographic group”—on “viewers in the audience component that most matters to MSNBC’s advertisers, viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.”

It’s almost obscene that Carter does that. The substantial majority of cable news viewers do not belong in that age group. That’s the group the money folk care about. But that isn’t the bulk of the cable news audience.

Ratings aren’t a measure of quality. That said, it’s worth wondering why MSNBC seems to be doing poorly in the ratings. Carter discusses the numbers for several specific shows, including Maddow and Morning Joe. These passages represent his broadest overview:
CARTER (10/13/14): MSNBC’s other numbers are no prettier. Over all in prime time, MSNBC, which for years had squashed CNN head-to-head on weeknights, has recently dropped consistently behind that network. The falloff over the last five years is stark. In the first quarter of 2009, MSNBC averaged 392,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic for its weeknight lineup. In the third quarter of this year, the number was down to 125,000.


Some of the losses at MSNBC reflect a drift away from cable news channels in general, as Mr. Griffin noted. Over the last five years, Fox News and CNN are both down 13 percent in total audience in prime time; MSNBC is down 21 percent. Fox has little to worry about because its numbers so dwarf the others. CNN has responded with a new strategy that mixes its traditional hard news approach with a regular lineup of pre-produced original series. It had a major success last week with the latest of them, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” with Mike Rowe.
Mike Rowe! Routinely, we’re amazed by the thought that many people must find him appealing, attractive, perhaps authentic. This constitutes an important political lesson:

A person (or issue) may seem different to many voters than he (or it) does to you!

Carter says that Fox’s ratings “dwarf” those of CNN and MSNBC. Below, we’ll show you the approximate size of the gap in prime time.

First, though, consider what happened when Carter asked an anonymous expert to opine about MSNBC’s ratings. It’s hard to believe that a major newspaper would put this piddle in print:
CARTER: One longtime news executive who has worked for both network and cable news organizations said the problem with “Morning Joe” was partly a broader issue with MSNBC. “‘Morning Joe’ has been hurt because no one is tuning in to watch the channel now; they go right by,” he said. “The show took its eye off the ball, but you can’t discount the fact that nobody is watching the channel.”

The executive, who asked not to be identified because of potential future business with MSNBC, said Ms. Maddow remains a draw, but her format has grown tired. “In terms of Rachel, everybody knows every night what she’s going to say,” he said. “The network just doesn’t surprise you.”
If we’re reading that correctly, Morning Joe’s ratings are being hurt because no one is tuning in! This expert’s analysis of Maddow’s appeal, or lack of same, isn’t a whole lot better.

Ratings don’t measure quality. On the other hand, they measure the number of voters a news channel can inform and perhaps even influence.

On Wednesday night, October 8, these were the total numbers for some competing prime-time shows on Fox and MSNBC:
Total viewers, 8 and 11 PM Eastern broadcasts
Bill O’Reilly: 4.335 million
Chris Hayes: 0.818 million

Total viewers, 9 PM and 12 midnight broadcasts
Megyn Kelly: 3.814 million
Rachel Maddow: 1.051 million
That gap might not matter much if the work was real good at the liberal channel. In many ways, we’d say it isn’t. Your results may differ, of course.

Final question: how old are the people who watch cable news? In comment threads, we often see members of our own tribe laughing about the advanced age of Fox News viewers. In fact, all three cable news channels attract an old coot-heavy crowd:
CARTER: The median age of the MSNBC viewer has also ticked upward. Five years ago it was 58; now it is 61. CNN has edged down a bit, from 62 five years ago to 59. Fox News has aged from 65 to 68.
Nothing can make the kids tune in! It seems to us that MSNBC panders hard in the quest for young viewers.

Advertisers love the kids. The kids don’t love the news.

People may seem different to others: People may seem different to other voters than they seem to you. We learned that lesson in July 1987, when the previously unknown Oliver North testified before a joint congressional committee on national TV.

We thought his performance was utterly clownish. A few days later, the national polling came out!


  1. Ratings don’t measure quality. On the other hand, they measure the number of voters a news channel can inform and perhaps even influence.

    Version for Bobworld

    Or perhaps they measure how many long time regular voters, who already agree with the point of view being expressed, wish to watch a particular cable tv infotainer retell tales they probably already know but which serve to reinforce their strongly held views.

    Short version.

    Perhaps liberals prefer other things to watching "news" spun anew all evening long.

  2. The kids are watching Daily Show for news.

    1. The Daily Show has lost most of its talented people.

    2. I agree. Two four minute segments of news in a half hour format is all today's kids are capable of handling.

      They get home late from the part time jobs in which they have been underemployed since graduation in the humanities and they are too bitter to watch much more.

    3. My, my how quick we are with the generalities about an entire generation, likely none of whom you really know.

      Yeah, things were so much better when we and Bob were young and oh so totally involved always.

    4. yeah, I teach "the kids." Amazing! They are serious people, alert to all sorts of things.

    5. And they are "plugged into" the world in ways that Somerby and his increasingly curmudgeonly fans cannot not even begin to imagine as they continue to define "media" like it was still limited to TV shows and newspapers.

  3. It is an analysis by the New York Times. Can we believe anything these people say?

    1. The article was almost obscene. Routinely, we’re amazed by the thought that many people must find this appealing, attractive, perhaps authentic. This constitutes an important political lesson.

  4. Really, Bob. The Gary Hart-Donna Rice scandal is virtually unprecendented in its egotistical hubris.

    And Bob? He was blown out of the water (almost literally!) in the spring of 1987.

    If you are any friend at all of Al Gore, you wouldn't even think of bringing up Gore in the same post as Gary Hart.

    1. This is not about frisky male Dems running for Pres.
      It is about oily old coots watching cable.

  5. I tend to agree with some of the above - younger progressives are far more likely to get their news from the Internet or Daily Show than CNN or MSNBC. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to be skeptical of main stream media. I no longer read either print or domestic U.S. newspapers. I'm sure not going to watch media outlets owned by Jack Welch.

    1. Well, you can rest easy because Jack Welch hasn't owned any media outlets in quite some time.

    2. That and Tim Russert is still dead.

    3. Younger progressives get their new from all kinds of places. "Younger" covers a big range. My college students are busy studying, and I am not sure whence their news. My own children don't have time for TV; they keep abreast via internet. All this focus on TV is sort of weird? But whether in their late teens, 20's, or early 30's, the young people I in my 60's know are keeping abreast somehow....

    4. I don't care how they keep abreast as long as they keep off my damn lawn.

  6. Carter did not focus on the improtant issue of whether FOX is still giving Sponge Bob a run for his ratings lead.

  7. When non-cable channels are included in the analysis, one can see that the liberal-leaning news shows viewership dwarfs Foxnews. ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and PBS main news broadcasts have around four times as many viewers as Fox News.

  8. Here's the real problem with MSNBC and its troubles losing younger viewers to CNN and other cable offerings.

    It's format has grown stale. Same sit-at-the-table and discuss the same things with the same "guests" every night. This might work with the geezers who watch Fox News, because if you shook things up, their heads would explode. Like Bobfans, they never get tired of hearing about "those damned kids" every single day.

    That, and the fact -- with the exception of Ferguson when MSNBC actually sent Chris Hayes and others into the field -- that MSNBC always suffers when there is breaking news.

    That's because NBC is running that network on the cheap. They don't do breaking news. With the exception of Ferguson. They gather the same people every night to talk about breaking news instead of covering it.

    Now Maddow has tried to break out with some original reporting. Her work on voter suppression efforts -- even going to North Carolina to report on what was happening in college towns -- was superlative.

    And she really looks for stories that are just beginning to break in the local papers. The chemical spill in the Ohio River, for example. And she was a step ahead of CNN and Fox on both the Gov. Ultrasound and the Bridgegate scandals -- largely because of being the first to report what local reporters were covering, and giving due credit to them.

    But then, when even those stories start to break nationally, MSNBC consistently finds itself out-manned and under-funded. They are soon back in the studio, talking to the same guests.

    Well, that format grows tired. Kinda like a stand-up comic who does the same schtick and wonders why he can't get any new gigs. Then he turns to blogging and holds a fundraising week.

    1. Plus msnbc is kind of tribal. They emphasize right versus left distinctions in a explotative, professional wrestling kind of way. And the hosts act like Franklins.

  9. Perhaps if the public weren't fed McNews we would pay more attention.
    If they would give the old who, what, where, when and why instead of the old he said she said.
    Did Thomas Eric Duncan tell the E-Room staff that he had come from Liberia when he first went there?
    Did he tell the doctors and nurses that he had helped a terminally ill (and highly contagious) Ebola victim to a cab?
    It's hard to say from the conflicting and skeletal news reports.
    We do know that some people claim he was dismissed from the ER because he was African-American. If true, that's big news.

    The fault lies not in our stars, but in our news editors.
    Now, I know that someone, somewhere must have dug up the facts, but it is the reporter's job to do that, not the public's.

    1. They give people what they want. And few people want straight news. Oh, people SAY they want straight news, but they don't, really. They want tales and narratives and good guys and bad guys, a story to infuriate them about how stupid (other) people are and another to make them feel warm and fuzzy, and all of it all laid out in simple form that goes down easily with dinner and NONE of it challenging, in form, or theme. That is human nature, and that is what we are up against. The right doesn't pretend to itself that people are anything other than what they are and as such, communicates well with them; Bob wants the left to pretend people are something different than what they are, and if you talk over their heads, they will rise to the level of your speech. But they won't. Things didn't evolve this way because people are willing to rise to intellectual challenges in their leisure time.

    2. People want chocolate and sugar to eat. They don't want to walk in the crosswalk. They want all sunny days with no rain or snow. They want to be loved without the effort of relationship. They want to be pretty and young forever. They want drugs without side effects and unconditional positive regard.

      Does that mean these things are good for people? Does that mean we arrange our society so that people can have all this? Even children know it can't be all play no work. That's why I find this arguing silly and unconvincing.

      Social institutions exist to help people live better lives. Paying attention to straight news is part of our responsibility, duty as citizens, what we owe our communities in a self-governing nation. Media should help us act like grown ups.

    3. And how do you propose forcing people to watch straight news? It isn't as if they have 170 options, or however many cable channels are out there these days. Let's also force people to stop drinking sugary drinks. And reading bad literature. It's their social responsibility not to do so, after all.

  10. I didn't find the NYT article on MSNBC enlightening, but TDH makes the anonymous source sound like a coach who explains why his team lost by saying, "Because we didn't score enough points." The source is saying that Morning Joe suffers because it's not a specific destination for viewers the way O'Reilly is for the dunderheads who watch that show.

  11. I'd add that most younger people who care about "news" are, well, busy! Busier than any of us commenting here, or than bob. Get real!

    Comment world at most sites like this: older folks who only vaguely remember having to get up in three hours while you are feeding a hungry baby or tending a sick toddler or awaiting the return home of a "what are they up to?" adolescent.

    1. Most younger folks cannot construct a complete sentence.

    2. Older folks are busy too. Who do you think cares for aging parents in their 80's and 90's? Sleep disruption is more common in older people. Do you think you stop worrying about your kids when they become adults? Do health and money problems stop when you hit 60?

      It is self-obsessed for younger people to think only they are busy and only they have problems that preoccupy them.

      Using this site as a distraction or source of entertainment or even information does not mean people here are not busy in their lives.

      When you start believing others have an easier life than yours, you lose the opportunity for empathy. Do not assume that because people don't share their problems with you, they have none. Do not assume that anyone who is here has no place better to be, or is here 24/7 with nothing else to do.