An overall industry slump and apathy toward Washington politics are among the reasons MSNBC President Phil Griffin gave the New York Times for the liberal network’s decline to the No. 3 spot in cable news.
Chris Matthews sits with President Barack Obama during an appearance on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" at American University, Dec. 5, 2013. (Getty Images)
“This has been a tough year all around,” Griffin told the Times. “All three cable news channels are drawing a smaller combined audience than they were five years ago.”
But MSNBC has taken a bigger hit in the last five years than its two main competitors. MSNBC is down 21 percent in total prime time audience, compared to Fox News and CNN, both down 13 percent, according to the Times.
The Times reported that MSNBC has seen its ratings hit one of the lowest points in the channel’s history during the third quarter of 2014. For several years, MSNBC was the second most-watched cable news network, but fell behind CNN in the last ratings quarter.
Griffin also blamed Washington gridlock, saying it makes viewers not wanting to tune in.
“You can look at the dysfunction in Washington, the wariness about politics, the low approval ratings,” he said. “That’s had an impact. But we’ve got to adjust; we’ve got to evolve.”
The network has previously branded itself as “the place for politics.”
“We have a good brand, a strong brand,” Griffin said. “But we’ve got to get outside Washington and open up our aperture a little.”
TheBlaze Magazine previously reported on the MSNBC slump in the July/August issue.
The Times focused on the network’s star host, Rachel Maddow as well as "Morning Joe," which have both seen a tumble. "The Rachel Maddow Show" dropped to 183,000 viewers in the 25-54 age demographic, the lowest point since the show began in 2008. “Morning Joe” reached an average of just 87,000 viewers in that demographic.
“‘Morning Joe’ has been hurt because no one is tuning in to watch the channel now; they go right by,” an unnamed cable news executive told the Times. “The show took its eye off the ball, but you can’t discount the fact that nobody is watching the channel.”
“In terms of Rachel, everybody knows every night what she’s going to say,” the executive added. “The network just doesn’t surprise you.”
In the first quarter of 2009, when President Barack Obama was still popular, the MSNBC audience averaged 392,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic for its primetime programing. In the third quarter of this year, that plummeted to 125,000. The Times reported that on Monday and Friday of last week, "Hardball with Chris Matthews" was the only show on the channel that managed to get an audience of more than 100,000.