Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fledgling Cable News Networks Suffering

It is not a good time to be a cable news network not named Fox News or CNN right now.

MSNBC's left-wing slant has cost them hundreds of thousands of viewers. The programming strategy was originally established as a voice for anti-Bush supporters who had enough of what was happening with the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But with a Democratic candidate in office, passionate anti-Bush advocates are satisfied with the man inside the White House. Less passion means less viewers.

NBC News eventually hired the former chief of the news division back in his old position with the same mandate he had ten years ago - save MSNBC, keep NBC's shows at number one. So far, his tactics have worked. "Today" is now #1 in the demos while "MTP" and "Nightly News" are now number 1 overall. MSNBC's left-wing shows in the daytime and evening were scrapped and replaced by newscasts anchored by NBC News' Thomas Roberts, Chuck Todd and Kate Snow.

Correspondents from NBC News are featured on the network more often and former Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has been brought in to take the reins during breaking news. The addition of Williams is seen as a rejuvenation for MSNBC's reputation along with his own career. "Morning Joe" contributors Mark Halperin and John Heilmann also have their own show at 6pm, a tape-delayed simulcast of their 5pm Bloomberg TV politics brief.

The new changes have helped improve ratings but MSNBC has not been able to catch CNN yet. In spite of all the difficulties ratings-wise, MSNBC still makes money for Comcast due to retransmission fees. With the upcoming election, ad revenue also doesn't seem to be much of an issue going forward.

The same can't be said for Al Jazeera America and Fusion. Both networks have attempted to make a dent in the news cycle but for the most part have failed. They've each had their moment to shine but faced scrutiny while doing so. Fusion's lead anchor Jorge Ramos was kicked out of a Donald Trump press conference on immigration and subsequently told to leave America in a video that viral. Al Jazeera on the other hand raised allegations about Peyton Manning and his possible usage of HGH in 2011.

Peyton Manning has received the benefit of the doubt from many fans and sports media. During last Sunday's NFL pregame shows and during the game which Manning played, no commentator mentioned the controversy even once. In his podcast, Bill Simmons described the reasoning as a "love affair" between Manning and the press but based on Twitter reactions, there is no brand trust in Al Jazeera.

Deborah Davies, Al Jazeera's investigative reporter behind the story, has made appearances on MSNBC, CNN and "Today" to set the record straight about her story. She even broke some news to CNN's Brian Stelter during last Sunday's "Reliable Sources" stating that Al Jazeera has a second source confirming Peyton Manning received HGH shipments in his residence.

The story was picked up instantly by Deadspin and other blogs and went viral on social media. It didn't stop fans from rooting for him later that afternoon after he stepped onto the field for the first time since being benched. But it makes me ponder whether anyone would've even known about the new detail in Al Jazeera's investigation if she didn't go on CNN in the first place.

If she simply made an appearance on her own network, AJA, and broke these latest details, how long would it have taken for others to pick it up and take notice? This is the problem with AJA. They still don't have a brand or reach in the United States, characteristics which took decades for CNN/Fox/MSNBC to build. The doping documentary was only watched by 25,000 people live on television. Does AJA have enough money to continue being on air past the 2016 election?

Meanwhile, the grass isn't much greener in Miami. Fusion has never been able to find its flavor. Sometimes, its an entertainment network. Sometimes, its a sports network. Sometimes, documentaries. And then maybe some news, here and there. As Fusion struggles to find its television identity, Vice is continuing to strengthen its hold. So much so that Disney announced it would invest $10 million into Vice and leave its joint venture with Univision.

Fusion is currently facing its biggest test as a featured partner on Snapchat Discover. If millenials like what they're reading on Fusion's page, the hope is that they eventually gravitate to the website and television network. The only problem? The TV network isn't available on Comcast and other major cable providers. They're not even rated because no one knows where it is on their dial or even has it in the first place.

Fusion recently produced an excellent episode of "Nightline" which aired in late December on ABC about cocaine. I expect Fusion and ABC to continue as partners with some of Fusion's reporting occasionally featured on ABC News and vice versa. But with the cord-cutting fears that ESPN's subscription numbers are causing, it is no surprise that Disney doesn't have enough patience to wait for Fusion to blossom. Univision still believes in the plan and will likely take on Disney's stake but before they do, they really need to have a vision for what Fusion really stands for.

An upcoming presidential forum will be Fusion's chance to prove itself on the national stage. Jorge Ramos and Alicia Menendez, Fusion's biggest stars, will be moderating. Will they be able to capture millennials or capture headlines?

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