Thursday, July 26, 2012

MSNBC's Olympic Gamble

MSNBC has already begun its Olympic programming, with pre-Olympic coverage for most of the day prior to 6pm this week.  When the actual games start, there will be no regular MSNBC programming until Rev. Al Sharpton at 6pm and then continuing with Hardball, Ed, Rachel Maddow, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell for the rest of the evening.

Why is MSNBC putting its regular daytime programming - and the superb Up With Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris Perry on weekends as well - on the shelf?  MSNBC expects the Olympics to draw big audiences, as they have in the past.  That's a safe bet.  But MSNBC also has a long range strategy at play here - they're hoping that some of the new viewers who come by to see the Olympics will stay for Rev. Al, Hardball, and the rest of evening.

This could happen.  But the reverse is also already at play.  The Cycle, struggling to find its footing in the afternoon, has not been on MSNBC the past few days.  I watched whatever was on CNN.  How many other news junkies, accustomed to leaning forward on MSNBC, will lean away to another news source during MSNBC's daytime Olympic coverage?   And will those people equal or outnumber the new viewers who come for the Olympics and stay?

It's a gamble.  And were I calling the shots, I wouldn't take it.  MSNBC has struggled long and hard to surpass CNN and get in second place in the 24/7 cable news races.  I would double down on the news, and leave the daytime Olympic coverage to some other NBC division, like NBC itself.

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