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Bad Business Decisions at NBC and MSNBC

It seems that MSNBC, under heavy pressure from its parent organization, NBC, has decided to pull Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews from the chair as its primary hosts of election coverage. The reason is, unabashedly and plainly, that the McCain campaign has been complaining that MSNBC’s coverage was biased towards the democrats.

Although MSNBC nearly doubled its total audience compared with the 2004 conventions, its competitive position did not improve, as it remained in last place among the broadcast and cable news networks. In prime time, the channel averaged 2.2 million viewers during the Democratic convention and 1.7 million viewers during the Republican convention.

So, actually, although it’s "competitive position" didn’t improve, it’s viewership (which is what you use when you sell ads and make money), doubled. Let me repeat that, doubled. Having Olbermann and Chris Matthews doubled viewership. So, from a business point of view, this decision actually doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This isn’t the first time that MSNBC and NBC have made bad business decisions due to right wing pressure. In 2003 they canceled the Donahue show, even though it was the highest rated show on MSNBC at the time. An internal memo later showed that the decision was made because the program presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war".

In other words, twice now NBC has forced MSNBC to make bad political decisions because NBC wants to kiss up to Republicans. If I were a shareholder, I’d be outraged, and I’ll suggest that the company’s officers are failing their fiduciary duty to the owners of the company.

Meanwhile, Fox News, with a clear and unapologetic bias, sails on, sturdily ignoring complaints and keeping its top position in the network wars. Maybe NBC should try and learn the lesson: news with a viewpoint sells better than news without one, and the Republican conservative market is already saturated with content by Fox. On the other hand, there is a large market open on the left.

Since NBC is clearly unable to run MSNBC properly as a business, the rational decision would be to spin it off on its own, so that MSNBC’s managers can make the decisions they need to make, independent of political pressure from NBC’s executives.

But I guess puckering up for Republicans is more important to NBC than market share or profits.

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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at