News channel ad parodies CNN, Fox News

MSNBC is taking a page from politics with a campaign-style ad parodying the competition.

In the commercial, which started airing Tuesday, MSNBC takes shots at the on-air personas of both Fox and CNN in a bid to carve out space as an alternative to both.

It’s another sign the cable news race is getting rougher; last week Fox News Channel placed an ad in Television Week portraying Anderson Cooper as the “Paris Hilton of cable news.”

Fox News is portrayed as stocked with raving right-wingers tub-thumping for the Bush administration; its audience is represented by a cigar-smoking fat cat. CNN is represented with a thinly veiled caricature of Larry King, its viewers as shut-in septuagenarians.

“Let’s face it, there are a lot of choices out there,” the voiceover begins, with a woman first flipping to Fox News.

“You can pick someone who has an agenda,” it continues as a Fox viewer screams, “How can you question the authority of our commander-in-chief!”

“Or you can pick someone who is out of touch,” it says, switching to a geezer supposed to represent Larry King. “Oh, boy this is going to be great,” says an elderly viewer holding a cat.

As each channel is switched, the interior decor switches from stodgy to trailer-park chic to ultramodern as MSNBC personalities Tucker Carlson and Keith Olbermann hit the screen.

Ad represents a change in strategy for MSNBC, long a perennial underperformer, but now in its closest-ever competitive position with CNN.

“We’re looking to differentiate our brand from both Fox and CNN. The far more achievable goal is beating CNN,” said MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines. “Now is the time for us to find our voice, given our recent ratings success.”

A Fox News rep was amused: “When you’ve been an embarrassment to your parent company for 10 years, it certainly never hurts to take chances.”

King’s viewers may be old, but he has more viewers in the 25-54 demo than MSNBC at 9 p.m.

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