Can MSNBC and Comcast continue as Obama media shills?

Declining ratings and revenue accelerating, leaving MSNBC trailing the competition and losing ground. Photo: MSNBC/Comcast logos

SAN DIEGO, August 9, 2013 – Partisan opinion-based programming on cable news networks is proving to be a losing strategy for MSNBC. 

As viewers abandon the network, it’s logical to wonder when shareholders will demand the parent company Comcast do something to correct the free fall. 

The Free Enterprise Project of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank, reports MSNBC’s business model that sets aside hard news coverage in favor of partisan liberal political opinion programming is failing. 

MSNBC’s ratings are in a free-fall since the 2012 Presidential election. In July, MSNBC’s ratings fell 16 percent overall (year-to-year against July 2012) and 12 percent in the key 25-54 age range, dropping the network into fourth place behind Fox News, CNN and HLN. July is the third month running MSNBC finished last in the ratings among major cable network news channels.

MSNBC was hoping for a rebound from similar bad news in May, when it dropped to the lowest viewership since 2007, and lowest prime time ratings since 2009. CNN scored record ratings thanks to the Jodi Arias trial; Fox News bagged big numbers thanks to its reporting on the IRS, NSA, and Benghazi scandals. Fox News continues to remain at the top of the ratings among the cable networks, its 46th consecutive quarter there and 138th consecutive month. In total viewers, Fox News beat MSNBC and CNN combined in both total and in primetime viewers, while surpassing both in the key 25-54 demographic.

MSNBC hoped to spring back during the summer when blockbuster news stories would presumably fade, but it didn’t happen. 

SEE RELATED: How long will the Time Warner vs. CBS/Showtime blackout last?

Performing particularly poorly was MSNBC’s prime-time line-up where “All in With Chris Hayes” was down 27 percent, “The Rachel Maddow Show” lost 19 percent of total viewers and “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” fell a whopping 29 percent. 

Cable news viewers do enjoy opinion programming, but apparently there is a sweet spot for it that MSNBC has failed to find. The Pew Research Center performed an analysis of the three major network news channels in late 2012 and found that by an 85 / 15 percent split MSNBC is dominated by opinion coverage, while Fox News presented 55 percent opinion and 45 percent news reporting and CNN had 46 percent opinion and 54 percent news reporting over the same time period.

“MSNBC often acts as an echo chamber for President Barack Obama’s Administration - adding very little to the national dialogue on topical issues,” said Justin Danhof, Esq., director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project. “Why would folks tune in if they can simply watch a White House press conference and readily predict what MSNBC’s talking heads are going to say for the rest of the day?” 

MSNBC is trying to appeal to a niche audience. Gallup polls show just one in five Americans identifying themselves as liberal. Thirty-five percent identify themselves as moderate. Forty percent consider themselves conservative. 

SEE RELATED: CBS, Showtime blacked out for Time Warner Cable customers in NY, LA

Because MSNBC has chosen to go with an opinion-based programming model and maintains very thin resources for breaking news, viewers choose other sources when big stories break such as the Boston Marathon bombings. MSNBC President Phil Griffin even admitted in an interview with the New York Times on June 3 that his channel is “not the place” to go for breaking news.

The bigger problem than simply parroting the Democratic Party line is that MSNBC is pursuing a business model that does not benefit shareholders of its parent company, Comcast, which purchased a majority interest in NBC Universal in early 2013 from General Electric. 

Since 2009, the National Center for Public Policy Research had pointed out problems with the company’s bottom line, appearing at GE and now Comcast shareholder meetings. National Center called on Immelt to resign as Chairman and CEO from GE in June 2010, accusing Immelt of wanting to profit from taxpayers rather than earning income through GE’s business model. It followed up by staging a rally against Immelt and GE’s policies outside the 2011 GE shareholder meeting. 

After the sale to Comcast was completed, the National Center continued to warn of the dire economic consequences of its business model, coupled with increasingly vitriolic statements that could be subject to lawsuits for slander, potentially costing shareholders millions of dollars in damages.

Despite all of this pressure and warning, MSNBC’s leadership continues to steer the company into the basement by forcing liberal opinion programming into nearly every second of its airtime. Because its air talent isn’t adding enough value for the viewers, they can simply access Obama Administration news conferences and information through its direct distribution and eliminate the MSNBC middleman.

It’s possible that Comcast and NBC Universal are willing to let MSNBC be a “loss leader” and continue to bleed ratings and red ink in its effort to offer unabashed support for the Obama Administration. Shareholders are only likely to put up with this reckless business behavior for so long.

While limits on corporate political contributions were stricken down by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case in 2010, at what point should Comcast declare MSNBC’s airtime a contribution benefitting the Democratic Party – even if it’s not worth all that much anymore due to a lack of viewers? 

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in Communities at Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

Copyright © 2013 by Falcon Valley Group

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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