MSNBC Aims to Raise Profile with HD
Hi-def rollout part of bid to boost name recognition with viewers
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/28/2009 9:43:11 PM
For MSNBC executives, the network's less-than-household-name status was apparent after the first one-on-one debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in February 2008.
Moderated by Brian Williams and Tim Russert from Cleveland, the debate was viewed by 7.8 million people on MSNBC. It was the most-watched program of the night on television, and the top-rated program in MSNBC's 13-year history. But suddenly, MSNBC executives were fielding queries from first-time viewers.
"People did not know what MSNBC was," says network president Phil Griffin. "They were like, âMSNBC? Is that a business network, some newfangled Microsoft network?' Everybody knows CNN. Fox News Channel, they get it. âMSNBC? Huh?'"
So executives launched a consciousness- raising campaign that has included a new slogans--"The Place for Politics" and "Politics Comes First"--and strategic marketing initiatives. Those initiatives included a deal with Starbucks to carry MSNBC's coverage of the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration on the coffee retailer's in-store TVs. And the campaign culminates June 29 with the start of the network's HD rollout.
The network is the last among its all-news competitors to go HD, and for Griffin it's not just about visuals. "I love our anchors and our people being looked at in hi-def. But this is about being in the neighborhood. You get your regular core audience to tune in, but a good chunk of our [total] audience is people who are flipping around."
If a news network is going to attract casual viewers and turn them into loyal viewers, it helps to be in the same HD neighborhood as their cable news competitors. MSNBC in HD will launch at different times on different MSOs. It will debut on Cablevision on June 29 and on Time Warner in July. By the end of August, MSNBC HD will be available in 11 million homes.
Being part of the same HD real estate with CNN and Fox News is one thing, but brand awareness is another. "We still have to get our message out," Griffin concedes. "This year, we've just been constantly trying to make noise in a positive way so that people know who we are."
That din includes new dayside programming: The Meeting With Dylan Ratigan from 9-11 a.m., and an hour hosted by health guru Dr. Nancy Snyderman at noon, premiering with the June 29 HD launch. (Carlos Watson hosts a news headline hour at 11 a.m.)
"We're changing dayside away from the TelePrompTer headline news to Dylan Ratigan and Dr. Nancy. And we'll continue to do that less--of people sitting behind a desk, reading TelePrompTers," Griffin says. "Our audience knows what's going on. They've got BlackBerrys. They're on the Web. So we've got to give them more."
It's a strategy that MSNBC has employed to positive effect in the early morning with Joe Scarborough's Morning Joe, and in primetime with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. MSNBC, for years a distant third in the cable news ratings race behind leader Fox News and CNN, has now surpassed CNN in primetime among the network's target 25-54 demographic for the second consecutive quarter, according to data provided by Nielsen Media Research.
And while HD has not yet reached critical mass, it is where the market is heading."I think you've got to be there now," Griffin points out. "And I think in a year or two it will definitely make a huge difference. If you want to be competitive in this game, it's the price of entry."
Wayne Casa - 7/7/2009 8:27:40 AM EDT
When is MSNBC HD coming to my zip code 08088 in NJ. Comcast ofcourse has no idea....... But we did get the FOX NEWs channel in HD. No problem there. Do they have more pull??? Love to get the info!!
grietie connolly - 7/3/2009 4:11:05 PM EDT
Hey Thomas -- so you're basically saying that all networks other than Fox are biased? Ever heard of rose-colored glasses?
Christopher Howard - 7/1/2009 1:47:48 PM EDT
I wouldn't bother watching such a biased, left-leaning network at MSNBC. They're in the same category as ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. Suckups to Obama and the left
Thomas J Waeghe - 6/30/2009 1:15:20 PM EDT
Ben Bayol - 6/29/2009 3:38:14 PM EDT
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