The first month plus at MSNBC A.K. (After Keith) has been a mixed bag. On the upside Rachel Maddow’s ratings have grown by 34% compared to last year at this time. The bad news is that until the Wisconsin protests became hot story, Ed Schultz had been unable to hold the same viewership numbers that Lawrence O’Donnell had at 10 PM.
Rachel Maddow has not been hurt by the departure of Olbermann as the monthly ratings press release from MSNBC stated, “The Rachel Maddow Show marked the 13th consecutive monthly win over CNN among A25-54 (301,000 vs. 236,000) and total viewers (1.102 million vs. 809,000). This is the strongest A25-54 delivery for TRMS since November 2010 and the best total viewer delivery since March 2009. Compared to January 2011, “The Rachel Maddow Show” grew +11% in total viewers and 19% in A25-54.”
Lawrence O’Donnell was able to hang in there and pull similar numbers to Olbermann from the same time last year. The Last Word was up 7% in total viewers compared to Olberman’s numbers in the same time slot, but O’Donnell was down 9% in total viewers. The real story is that O’Donnell’s numbers are off anywhere from 100,000-200,000 viewers compared to what Olbermann was averaging during his final months on the air. During the past week, O’Donnell has ranged from a high of 1.2 million viewers to a low of 980,000 viewers. (Olbermann usually averaged about 1.1 million viewers a night).
Olbermann’s departure has been most strongly felt at 10 PM where The Ed Show struggled to average that The Last Word had before it moved to 8 PM. In fact, Ed Schultz had fallen behind CNN’s Anderson Cooper in February, but The Ed Show’s ratings jumped as the Wisconsin protests became a national story. On 3 of 4 nights last week, Schultz had a million total viewers. His low last week was 931,000. The Wisconsin story is perfect for Schultz and his pro-union blue collar program, so it is no surprise that his numbers have jumped.
Overall MSNBC misses the stability that Keith Olbermann brought to their prime time lineup, but they aren’t in bad shape. Olbermann’s departure did not result in a mass boycott of or a ratings decline for MSNBC. The Ed Show was a slow ratings starter at 6 PM, and it may take a few months before the show gets rolling at 10 PM, and if The Last Word can build a viewership similar in size to Olbermann’s the network will be overjoyed.
Rachel Maddow was MSNBC’s future long before Olbermann left, but she has taken the ball and ran with being the face of the network. I suspect that Maddow’s ratings will continue to grow, because of the unique qualities that her show brings to cable news prime time. Without Olbermann her audience has stuck with her, so it doesn’t seem to matter who occupies the time slot in front of her because The Rachel Maddow Show has built its own audience.
It will be interesting to see how much of MSNBC’s audience Keith Olbermann will be able to peel off when he starts broadcasting on Current, but at least initially I think Current is not available in enough homes to much ratings damage to MSNBC. The network’s prime time lineup may be in a state of transition, but there is a new lead voice in progressive media. The next generation is now as Rachel Maddow has become the top voice at MSNBC.