MSNBC to widen its scope and make other changes, its president says

NEW YORK – A change is going to come to MSNBC in 2015.

“Technology is continuing to drive unprecedented changes across the media landscape – and we all should be taking a hard, honest look at how we need to evolve along with it,” Phil Griffin, president of the NBC-owned cable news channel, wrote in a year-end message sent to employees Monday and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Griffin noted that it was a tough year for cable news networks – Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC are all on track finish 2014 with a lower daily average audience than the previous year. Part of that has to do with the growth of broadband Internet service, which enables more news consumers to find video coverage online and through their mobile devices.

But Griffin acknowledged that MSNBC’s year was especially difficult, as it will finish third behind Fox News and CNN with viewers ages 25 to 54 – the demographic that advertisers target with news programming. Through Dec. 21, MSNBC averaged 169,000 prime-time viewers in the category, down 17 percent from 2013 and its worst performance since 2005. Fox News is averaging 302,000 for the year in the demographic, a 3 percent increase, while CNN is down 1 percent with 181,000. MSNBC is a distant second behind Fox News in overall viewers, but it’s down in that category as well.

Griffin’s memo – an attempt to get ahead of the bad ratings news – did not reveal any specific plans to alter MSNBC’s lineup of left-leaning political talk show hosts, who include Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell and the Rev. Al Sharpton. But he did say the channel would invest in more programming and news coverage that goes beyond the Beltway.

“We’re going to get on the road – and outside of Washington – a lot more,” Griffin wrote. “We’re going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans.”

The channel will continue to seek an ethnically diverse audience, Griffin noted. Earlier in the year he added Jose Diaz Balart, the Cuban-American journalist who also serves as an anchor for Spanish-language network Telemundo, to MSNBC’s daytime lineup. MSNBC has seen its Latinos viewership grow this year. The channel also continues to draw more African Americans than CNN or Fox News, he added.

Griffin also noted that MSNBC will continue to reach out to young viewers – the quickest adapters when it comes to watching news video online (they are also more likely not to watch cable news). To that end, MSNBC recently launched Shift, a digital channel that will be used to develop programs that go outside the realm of the cable outlet’s steady diet of political debate.

Based on his remarks about the channel’s partnership with the Global Poverty Project, Griffin gives no indication that MSNBC will abandon its progressive slant. Earlier this year, MSNBC aired a concert from New York’s Central Park that was sponsored by the advocacy organization dedicated to eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

“This first venture proved to be a very successful model for combining inventive programming, events, and sponsorships to raise awareness for causes that reflect our audience’s values and we’re going to expand on it moving forward,” Griffin wrote.

Although the tone of Griffin’s year-end message was upbeat, one former MSNBC producer believes a shake-up at the channel is inevitable in the year ahead. “The channel desperately needs to be reinvigorated,” the producer said.

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