The public is sending a message. Are you open-minded enough to receive it?
Your downward trend in the ratings has reached critical mass. Your primetime lineup has finished below your sister station CNBC the past two quarters. CNN’s sister station Headline News has bested you in total day demo four straight quarters now, and I honestly don’t know anyone who even watches that channel.
Worse yet is your performance within the 25-54 demographic — the most important age demographic in broadcast media.
Your total 25-54 viewership for the first quarter of 2015 plummeted 39 percent from this time a year ago, and is now at its worst since the second quarter of 2005. Your top-rated program, “The Rachel Maddow Show,” posted its lowest 25-54 number since it debuted in September 2008. Ms. Maddow has now lost 46 percent of her 25-54 viewers, and her overall viewership is down 19 percent as just the 16th most-watched show in cable news. That’s behind the 11 p.m. Eastern replay – that’s right, I said replay – of “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Furthermore, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell have also been hit with their lowest rating in the 25-54 demo since they originally launched. Chris Matthews is at his lowest in a decade. Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid just had their shows cancelled. Although I’ve appeared as a guest on MSNBC about 50 times in the past four years, I had never before heard their names until reading about their shows being cancelled in the trades.
Bottom line: There just doesn’t appear to be much of a market for an uber-liberal perspective in an industry already dominated by liberals.
Meanwhile, I don’t have to tell you the more conservative-leaning Fox is killing it in the ratings and is now the fourth-highest rated cable network overall in primetime. Two of the biggest names in conservative media —The Blaze and Newsmax – are lining up to get a piece of that action, but neither of them has the carrier access that MSNBC does.
If they did, it’s doubtful Fox would be so dominant. As I wrote back on February 4th for The Washington Times, conservative grumbling about Fox is also on the rise despite its ratings success. There is a rising sentiment out here in flyover country that Fox is becoming more and more Republican, but less and less conservative.
For example, on April 3rd The Right Scoop – one of the top conservative news sites in the country – called Bill O’Reilly a “weirdo” because he compared the beliefs of born-again Christians “to that of Islamist extremists.”
Herein lies your way forward, MSNBC.
There is a growing segment of the population that does not believe it is being served by television media on either side of the ideological divide. Though Fox is a ratings giant, its total primetime audience adds up to only 2 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election.
Many Americans share the same angst about big business (corporatism) as they do big government (socialism), seeing them as two sides of the same coin. Many Democrats see Hillary Rodham Clinton 2016 as their Mitt Romney 2012, and many Republicans want to nominate another Bush for president like they want a root canal. In January, Gallup reported an all-time record 43 percent of Americans are now independents.
Look no further than recent national election results to see how prevalent the public angst truly is. Barack Obama was swept into office in a landslide in 2008 and given strong Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, including a filibuster-proof Senate. But just six years later, Democrats came out of the 2014 election with their lowest representation in the legislative branch across all 50 states since before the Great Depression. And that’s with the opposition Republican Party in a state of perpetual civil war.
These numbers make it clear the American people are looking for a paradigm change. They have grown weary of the traditional two-party Venn diagram in the media: The Democrat proxy apologizes for all forms of Democrat failure, and the Republican proxy apologizes for inexcusable Republican hypocrisy (and vice versa). Viewers are looking for something far more substantive and meaningful than the same old pundits debating the same old talking points that were already tuned out long ago.
Your parent network, NBCUniversal, obviously recognizes this trend. Two years ago, “The Bible” mini-series averaged 11.7 million viewers on the History Channel for 10 weeks, which is 20 times more total viewers than MSNBC’s primetime lineup averaged last year. So NBCUniversal eagerly snatched up the rights to the expanded sequel, “A.D. The Bible Continues,” which just made its network television debut Easter Sunday.
Want more evidence? “Duck Dynasty” had 11.1 million viewers during the 2013-14 television season. Only three shows on NBC performed better.
There is clearly an untapped treasure trove of viewers out there. From 2010-14, 56 movies grossed more than $200 million domestic — the magic number to be considered a “blockbuster.” Two-thirds of those movies were either marketed with traditional family values in mind, promoted patriotic themes that once transcended partisan bickering, and/or featured characters that clearly embodied the battle of good vs. evil.
And Universal Pictures’ two most financially lucrative movie releases of the past decade are the family friendly animated pictures “Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2.” The series has been the studio’s biggest cash cow since the original “Jurassic Park” films.
I could go on, but by now you get the picture. So why continue doing what has already proven to be a failure? Why not obey the laws of supply-and-demand instead?
I’m not suggesting you change your whole network overnight, although that’s probably an idea worth considering after looking at your numbers. How about at least sticking your toe in the water? Between now and the culmination of the 2016 presidential election, put just one show in your primetime lineup that isn’t hostile to the America that resides between California and the Beltway. A show hosted by someone capable and credible who gets why “American Sniper” was the top grossing movie of 2014.
I’m confident such a show will be your highest-rated primetime program by the time the American people select their next president. So confident that if I’m wrong, I’ll divert all my Christmas season charitable giving to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Let’s face it, you’ve got nothing to lose at this point. Why not prove the sincerity of your commitment to diversity and open-mindedness, and actually gain market share in the process?
(Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)