MSNBC, one of the three major cable news networks, offers around-the-clock programming with a decidedly progressive bent. Offering a combination of news and documentaries, with politics as the central focus, the network currently surpasses CNN in ratings and runs a very close second to FOX News, a tribute to MSNBC’s increased popularity among liberal and progressive viewers since its 1996 inception. While its ascent has been rocky at times, MSNBC has solidified its prominent place in broadcasting with prime time shows hosted by provocative commentators. The network’s left-of-center stance is one that has evolved over the last two decades, the result of a few permutations over the years.
When MSNBC began in Secaucus, New Jersey on July 15, 1996, a mixture of news, interviews and opinion pieces comprised the programming. A joint venture between Microsoft and the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), hence the name, MSNBC was both a television network and a website. With the television network struggling to gain a footing initially, it remained at the bottom of the ratings. While access to news stories from NBC affiliates supplied the in-depth reporting and documentaries featured by the fledgling network, MSNBC had difficulty establishing a clear identity and therefore lacked a broad following.
The first noticeable change came in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Broadcasting continuous coverage of events, MSNBC became the go-to outlet for NBC News. Likewise, sister channels CNCB and CNBC Europe, lacking financial news to cover while the New York Stock Exchange remained closed, began running multiple hours of MSNBC coverage in the days following the attacks. As a result, MSNBC had a newfound focus on up-to-the-minute news reporting.
Then 2005 brought the next discernible transformation at MSNBC. With NBC’s acquisition of a 32% share of the company from Microsoft, MSNBC underwent a behind-the-scenes change that enabled NBC—now NBC Universal—to meld MSNBC’s operations with those of NBC News and all its other cable outlets. When NBC exercised its option to purchase the remaining 18% share of MSNBC from Microsoft two years later, it completed MSNBC’s transformation into an all-news channel with a political slant.
Meanwhile, this political emphasis had already begun to take root with the 2005 arrival of Keith Olbermann, host of a primetime show called Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Expressing critical and satirical comments on conservative icons of politics and the media, Olbermann drew a large number of liberal and progressive viewers. As the show’s viewership grew, the demographics of the overall MSNBC viewer shifted as well. Embracing this new demographic, the network added to its roster of primetime hosts over the next two years with other commentators whose strong political views tended to lean left. Viewership soared.
The 2007 move from Secaucus, New Jersey to New York City centralized all NBC News operations, including MSNBC, in one building. With the new location and the new emphasis on politics from a progressive perspective, MSNBC had now established itself as a contender among cable news networks. Thus, by 2010, the network had pulled ahead of CNN in the ratings and begun promoting its slogan “Lean Forward,” accenting its progressive approach.
With primetime political shows that attract loyal and increasingly large followings, MSNBC’s current slogan of “The Place for Politics” summarizes precisely how both the MSNBC and its viewers see this network.
Top MSNBC Shows
While MSNBC has a firm hold on second place during the day as well as in primetime, four shows have become the standout performers. Weekday mornings find Morning Joe, hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, garnering the majority of the spotlight. The show’s focus on politics and other current events, with a smattering of human-interest stories added in, provides a venue for the conservative Scarborough and the liberal Brzezinski to air differing views.
Commentators with broad knowledge of politics and strong views on the subject host the evening lineup of top shows. Beginning with Hardball with Chris Matthews in the early evening and moving on to primetime with The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, and the eponymous Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC has developed programming that consistently draws strong ratings.
Available in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and the African countries of Kenya, South Africa and Botswana, MSNBC has become a well-known international presence. As part of the NBC family of channels, the network shares the peacock logo with its sister channels, NBC, CNBC, Shop NBC and NBC Sports Network. Rounding out the NBC outlets are The Weather Channel, E, Style and the Golf Channel.
In the United States and Canada, MSNBC is delivered via most cable systems as well as by satellite and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). It is available in both standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD).