The Theory of Relativity and the Collapse of MSNBC

schultzcrazyThe cable news ratings for the first quarter of 2015 have been made public, and they have some interesting stories to tell. But it’s always tricky to draw conclusions from the numbers, because of the variables involved. For example, we don’t compare Q1 with the most recent data (Q4 of 2014) because viewing patterns vary through the year. That’s why year-to-year comparisons (Q1 2015 vs. Q1 2014) are preferred. Even so, there are trends that extend for years at a time that can color such a comparison. Right now cable news viewing is in an overall decline. So rather than just noting that everyone is losing viewership, it might be more instructive to compensate for that variable by examining how the networks, and individual programs, are faring relative to each other. This will tell us who, within the cable news marketplace, is up vs. the competition, and who is down. That’s how The Cable Game is played.

Using that theory of relativity we can look at the ranking each show holds in the list of cable news programs (totaling 113 including the business channels) and see who moved up the list (+), who moved down (-), and who held steady. You can be sure that anyone who moved up in the current viewing environment will be in good shape, while the biggest losers have a future that is cloudy at best. Unfortunately for MSNBC, almost everyone falls into that latter category. Here’s the list (based on the 25-54 “news demo”) and it isn’t pretty:

  • -31 The Ed Show (currently #59)
  • -25 All In with Chris Hayes (#38)
  • -25 Politics Nation with Al Sharpton (#49)
  • -25 The Rundown (#73)
  • -25 The Cycle (#76)
  • -24 Andrea Mitchell Reports (#80)
  • -23 NewsNation (#75)
  • -22 Now with Alex Wagner (#66)
  • -20 The Last Word (#37)
  • -18 Rachel Maddow (#26)
  • -18 Chris Matthews (#30)
  • -18 All In (rerun) (#56)
  • -17 Morning Joe (#50)
  • -17 MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts (vs. Ronan) (#81)
  • -16 Reid Report (cancelled) (#82)
  • -15 MSNBC Investigates (#34)
  • -10 MSNBC Live (#70)

As you can see MSNBC holds the distinction of having nothing but losers on its weekday schedule, with some of them real stinkeroos. Maddow is still the most-watched show on the network, but just a year ago it was in cable news’ top 10. Now it doesn’t even make the top 25. Still, as the biggest fish in a Lilliputian pond, she’s safe at home. It’s probably fair to say anyone who has dropped more than 20 slots shouldn’t be making any long-range plans. Diaz-Balart’s Rundown is probably too new to cancel just yet; that and the fetish over “demographics” will probably spare him for now. Andrea Mitchell may survive just to keep some visible patina of the “NBC News” imprint. Thomas Roberts is tanking in the afternoon “news” slot, but he’s safe for reasons having little to do with success; likewise Sharpton, who seems headed to weekends. But Ed, Hayes, the Cycle meatballs, and Alex might be wise to update their resumés. (Here’s a tip: skip over your work at MSNBC.) It’s no wonder Joe Scarborough is pretending to consider a run for public office again; his “influential” morning show took a nosedive and now is losing to CNN, HLN, and even reruns on CNBC. Overall this schedule should be declared a disaster area, as bad a year-to-year collapse as the cable news world has seen in decades. It’s time for the man responsible to be Philiminated from the MSNBC boardroom.

In our next post, the cable news network with a string of + signs—it’s a comeback story, but popping champagne corks would be premature at best.

Our thanks to TV Newser for the 2014 and 2015 Q1 data.

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