Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why Keith Olbermann  Needs To Throw More Bombs

MSNBC is doing well without Keith Olbermann, five months after his ouster. Olbermann, in other words, has got some heavy lifting to do, but that's not entirely his fault. If anyone is well-suited to be a competitive underdog it is an inveterate sports observer like Olbermann. It should be noted at the outset that Current TV is only available in 60 million households on the digital tier as opposed to the 78 million households that MSNBC is available in on basic cable. Add to the fact that MSNBC spends a lot on marketing ("Lean Forward") in spite of the fact that it already has strong name recognition -- compare that to Current TV, largely known only as "Al Gore's network." How many people one and a half week's into Olbermann's stint even know what channel Current TV is on?

The big three networks grew in the second quarter of 2010 and, in their train, some of the cable networks also saw some growth. From Medialifemagazine:

In addition to growth by the Big Three networks, CNN also saw its primetime lineup increase by 16 percent in total viewers and 28 percent in adults 25-54 with a more newsy focus than its competitors Fox News and MSNBC, which feature opinion programs in primetime.

Fox News was down a bit in both total viewers and 25-54s in second quarter, though it was by far the most-watched cable news network in both, while MSNBC was up, but more slightly, on both measures.
MSNBC's growth is notable because it was the network's first full quarter without Keith Olbermann, who left in January, but it's not completely surprising. Last year at this time MSNBC was showing Olbermann repeats at 10 p.m.; this quarter it filled the slot with original programming.

But Keith's a big bot. Olbermann knew perfectly well he was in an uphill battle joining up with Current TV. In fine,  Olbermann, the underdog in this dirty street fight that is cable news prime time, is going to have to start throwing bombs -- artfully timed Hail Mary passes -- if he wants to remain relevant to the big guys in nightly cable commentary. Otherwise, Keith risks being merely a bothersome gnat, like the underwhelming Conan O'Brien on his increasingly irrelevant show on TBS.

To his credit, Olbermann is good at bomb-throwing and, perhaps anticipating his media future, has already begun doing just that. Olbermann also knows how to find the media's G-spot. From David Carr's essay in the Times magazine recently:

In late May, we went to the Saturday night game of the Mets-Yankees subway series. A former ESPN anchor and a lifelong Yankees fan, Olbermann is a deeply knowledgeable baseball wonk. We emerged from the dining club in the new stadium, stepped out into the section right behind home plate, walked down to the very front row and took a seat next to one of his longtime producers, Katy Ramirez Karp. Alex Rodriguez was just a few feet away, taking lazy warm-up swings and nodding at some pals who were sitting behind us. Olbermann looked beyond him, peering into center field.

“Switch seats with me,” he said pleasantly. “I want to be in the Fox Sports shot of home plate. They usually cut it off right here,” he said, indicating the arm of the seat between us. “It’s fun to mess with them.”
The man knows what he's doing. Further, Olbermann's Tweets are incendiary; he goads his opponents. That's a good thing too considering that Olbermann has a Twitter audience of over 225,000 plus followers. And a smouldering Olbermann Tweet, if re-Tweeted, could reach an even far larger audience than that. Clever.

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