When MTPDaily debuted in late September, featuring Meet the Press host Chuck Todd’s return to weekday programming, it was supposed to signal a change of direction for MSNBC. The network, mired in a years-long ratings slump that saw it fall far behind Fox News and struggling at times to compete with CNN, decided to ditch its Lean Forward strategy and concentrate on more straight news reporting and middle-of-the-road Beltway coverage. Therefore, goodbye Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, Alex Wagner and The Cycle, hello Chuck Todd, Kate Snow and Brian Williams.
While the main primetime lineup of Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell was left untouched, the 4 PM – 6 PM ET programs headlined by Wagner, Schultz and Sharpton were cut in lieu of the new direction. MTPDaily was given Schultz’s old 5 PM slot and Snow now anchors a two-hour version of MSNBC Live, which covers the time that Wagner and The Cycle used to occupy. Another one-hour broadcast of Live currently takes up Sharpton’s old 6 PM digs until another show (reportedly a panel discussion program) is developed and takes over.
Almost immediately after its debut, Todd’s show started going south in the ratings. While Schultz was let go mostly because of his own low numbers, he at least had a dedicated following and fit within the overall progressive/liberal bent of the channel. Also, it should be noted that Ed’s was shuffled around as he was pushed to the weekend from his 8 PM weeknight spot to make room for Hayes and then brought back to a 5 PM on weekdays. It is tough to retain a core audience when you’re being bounced back and forth.
When it comes to Todd, his political junkie/Washington insider persona has always been a tough sell to the MSNBC crowd. And the early returns have borne that out. Now roughly six weeks into his daily show’s run, Todd has been unable to click with any type of news-watching audience. Younger viewers are staying away from him in droves, and it is impacting the rest of the network’s standing in the key 25-54 demographic.
Last week, MTPDaily averaged only 54,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo. In comparison, the lead-in hour of MSNBC Live had nearly the same demographic number (53,000) while the short-time replacement news hour that follows up his program actually outperformed him in the demo (59,000). Meanwhile, over on CNN in the same timeslot, Wolf Blitzer nearly tripled Chuck’s numbers among 25-54 viewers as he pulled an average of 149,000.
Now, perhaps Todd is like his fellow MSNBC primetimers who struggle a bit with the key demo but soundly beat their CNN opponents when it comes to total viewers, right? WRONG. During the same week, Wolf averaged 160,000 more viewers overall, beating him 635 K to 475 K. And this week doesn’t look any better, as during the first three days, Todd’s demo numbers are similar to last week’s while his overall numbers are even lower. Wolf, on the other hand, is doing just as well in both the demo and total.
Obviously, six weeks is way too soon to pull the plug on any news program. But you have to wonder how long will the big wigs in the front office allow Todd to struggle at this level.