MSNBC, the struggling left-leaning cable news network, looks more and more like it’s heading into a big transition. Last week, the network canceled two shows, which is believed to be a first step in a larger effort to re-brand the network, as ratings continue to slump. But why the sudden change of course for what many consider to be the liberal version of conservative favorite Fox News? An article in the Atlantic suggests that the changes afoot in the television industry could be to blame. Those changes are driven by changing viewing habits, of which cord-cutting is perhaps the best example.
To understand how theses changes have put pressure on MSNBC, we must first understand how they haven’t put any pressure on MSNBC prior to now. Like cable news competitors CNN and Fox News, MSNBC is a part of most standard cable packages. So even as rating tank, revenue from millions of subscribers who can’t opt out of paying for the network continue to roll in. That allows cable networks of all kinds, not just MSNBC, to double down on strategies regardless of whether they’re working or not. However, that inertia is dependent on those big cable bundles, which are slowly but surely starting to fray at the edges. HBO, CBS, Univision, Nickelodeon, and others are offering standalone services, and products like Sling TV give users the option to purchase smaller chunks of programming. As the TV business continues to move in this direction, MSNBC won’t simply be able to put up with bad ratings.
If television goes à la carte or consumers start cutting the cord in bigger droves, opting for standalone streaming services from their favorite networks instead, MSNBC has realized that it needs to be competitive, and it needs to do so before that shift takes place. And with those in how TV is delivered and watched happening all around us, that means they need to start now.