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The Anti-Fox Gains Ground

On Tuesday night, with a minute to go until the polls closed in the battleground state of Virginia, the MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews received word through their earpieces that the state was too close to call, according to the election analysts at MSNBC’s parent, NBC News.

“I think that’s pretty significant,” Mr. Matthews said, optimistically, as a commercial break wrapped up. Virginia, a state that had voted to elect a Democratic presidential candidate only once in 40 years — Barack Obama in 2008 — was not leaning toward Mitt Romney as some Republicans had predicted it would.

Inside the NBC “Sunday Night Football” studio that MSNBC was borrowing for the night, the stage manager loudly called out, “Here we go.” Ms. Maddow softly repeated, “Here we go,” and reported the news to three million viewers.

When President Obama won Virginia and most of the other battleground states on Tuesday night, ensuring himself a second term as president, some at MSNBC felt as if they had won as well.

During Mr. Obama’s first term, MSNBC underwent a metamorphosis from a CNN also-ran to the anti-Fox, and handily beat CNN in the ratings along the way. Now that it is known, at least to those who cannot get enough politics, as the nation’s liberal television network, the challenge in the next four years will be to capitalize on that identity.

MSNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, has a long way to go to overtake the Fox News Channel, a unit of News Corporation: on most nights this year, Fox had two million more viewers than MSNBC.

But the two channels, which skew toward an audience that is 55 or older, are on average separated by fewer than 300,000 viewers in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers desire. On three nights in a row after the election last week, MSNBC — whose hosts reveled in Mr. Obama’s victory — had more viewers than Fox in that demographic.

“We’re closer to Fox than we’ve ever been,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who has been trying to overtake Fox for years. “All of this is great for 2013, 2014 to keep building.”

In some ways MSNBC, which until 2005 was partly owned by Microsoft, is where Fox was a decade ago — in the early stages of profiting from its popularity. The channel receives a per-subscriber fee of 30 cents a month from cable operators; CNN receives twice that, and Fox News at least three times as much.

“When Microsoft was involved with MSNBC, it was viewed as kind of lacking in direction; I don’t think the channel had much leverage raising rates,” said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for SNL Kagan. “Maybe they will have some more leverage on this postelection.”

If Fox sees itself as the voice of the opposition to the president, MSNBC sees itself as the voice of Mr. Obama’s America. Its story resembles that of so many other cable channels. It hit on a winning strategy (antiwar liberalism led by Keith Olbermann at 8 p.m.), added similar shows (like Ms. Maddow’s at 9 p.m., which became the channel’s tent pole when Mr. Olbermann left in 2011) and then sold its audience as something more: a community of passionate, like-minded people.

Many progressives (and conservatives) now view the channel as a megaphone for liberal politicians, ideas and attacks against those who disagree. Such a megaphone — clearly marked, always on — has never existed before on television.

It has all happened rather suddenly. During the presidential election in 2008, Ms. Maddow was so new that she was still getting lost in the labyrinth of Rockefeller Center. And MSNBC was so timid about applying a political point of view that it paired an NBC News anchor, David Gregory, with the outspoken Mr. Olbermann on election night. The awkward pairing symbolized the split in American journalism between those who embodied a political point of view and those who said they did not.

by Anonymousreply 411/13/2012

I love how the Times casually dropped the bomb that they're considering dropping Ed Schultz in favor of Ezra Klein. WTF? I rarely watch Ed (more of a Rachel/Lawrence guy) but I appreciate the blue-collar viewers that Ed attracts. What would they do with Ed? Drop him completely? Move him up an hour to replace that Hardball rerun?

It was just a year ago that they moved him from 10 to 8 to help their lineup. Hard to believe that they've soured on him suddenly.

by Anonymousreply 111/13/2012

If they get rid of Ed Schultz I'll never watch MSNBC again. It will show to me that business executives don't like the heat on them and will squash it. Dylan Ratigan who was very much for looking at the behaviors of business people was let go from MSNBC earlier this year.

MSNBC's transformation is due to Keith Olbermann. Let's give him credit. He saw talent in Rachel Maddow. If anyone remembers, Rachel got her start on MSNBC as a guest commentator on Tucker, Tucker Carlson's now cancelled show. She dressed like a teenage boy in those segments. Who would have selected her to lead a national broadcast from that? Keith lobbied to get Rachel a show right after his. Her show began in September 2008. From there other liberal commentators were picked.

My prediction is MSNBC's ratings will be flat or slight above what they've been the last four years. I don't see MSNBC ratings going up greatly in the next four years. Liberal enthusiasm is will decline now that Obama's been reelected. Cable news viewership has gone down the last two years after going up every year for previous 10+ years.

by Anonymousreply 211/13/2012

[quote}Cable news viewership has gone down the last two years after going up every year for previous 10+ years.

Only because everyone now gets their news on line. I go to msnbc.com as well as other sites.

by Anonymousreply 311/13/2012

Kudlow had a short segment with Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax. They were talking about how immigrants want to work hard and become part of the American dream. That sounded like good Republican values to them. They bemoaned how certain people in the party had screwed this up. Gosh, Reagan himself had signed an amnesty.

They've already started to reposition the Republican Party. I don't know if it will take, but they're trying.

P.S. Kudlow predicted a Romney landslide, so I don't know how seriously anyone will take him.

by Anonymousreply 411/13/2012
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