Sports on MSNBC? News Outlet Will Launch Streaming-Video Hub To Test New Shows, Hosts

MSNBC Liberal Makeover Phil Griffin
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

MSNBC is getting ready to debut a new show about sports. And one focused on books. And another that will examine celebrity and popular culture. In all, the NBCUniversal-owned cable-news network has 14 new programs ready to roll.

You won’t see any of them on MSNBC. At least, not yet.

The cable-news outlet best known for progressive commentary from Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes is launching a portal of streaming-video programming that its top executive, Phil Griffin, expects to have a great deal of influence on the cable network in months to come. Through the new digital initiative, known as “Shift by MSNBC,” the network will serve up new topics and introduce new contributors that could gradually make their way to the cable network, Griffin believes – depending on the traction they gain among audiences. “Shift” is expected to launch Monday morning.

“We’ve got to keep evolving,” he explained during a conversation in his office at NBCUniversal’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters. “We are going to broaden the aperture, but keep the sensibility. Times change and evolve. We had great success in 2006 to 2012, 2013, with our sensibility, but I think now, with the media exploding, we’ve got to adjust a little bit too, and figure out new ways to grab audiences.” Among the new offerings is “The Briefing,” a political program hosted Monday and Fridays by Luke Russert, and “Code Forward,” a discussion of issues raised by new technology, developed in partnership with the tech-news outlet Re/Code.

The launch comes as MSNBC pushes against the same headwinds rivals are facing: Cable-news ratings have over the long term sunk as viewers turn to mobile devices and digital techniques to get information about their world. Replenishing this crowd with younger viewers becomes tough when millennials and the generation behind them seem more comfortable with streaming video that does not require a subscription to a satellite or cable distributor. Last month, MSNBC saw its total viewership fall 13% and its audience in the demo most favored by advertisers in news programming — people between 25 and 54 — tumble 16%, according to Nielsen. In 2013, the network saw its primetime audience decline 24%, according to analysis from the Pew Research Journalism Project.

“Shift” will serve to lure people making one of their own. According to Pew, the “vast majority” of U.S. consumers get news via digital means. In 2013, 82% of Americans said they got news on a desktop or laptop and 54% said they got news on a mobile device, according to Pew’s “State of the News Media 2014.” What’s more, 35% said they accessed news “frequently” on their desktop or laptop, and 21% indicated they did the same using a mobile device.

Some of MSNBC’s competitors have already made a stab at new audiences. CNN’s CNNGo lets viewers access CNN content in “on demand” fashion via tablet and set-top box. CBS’ CBSN is the streaming-video equivalent of a cable-news network, but delivered without the expensive infrastructure.

MSNBC executives see “Shift” as an interesting bid for younger viewers and dominance in new subject areas, but also as a prod that will get users to join the audience of its cable network. Both Griffin and Richard Wolffe, executive editor of MSNBC.com, see a time coming in the very near future when viewers no longer differentiate between what they watch on TV and what they watch via other screens, and “Shift” is an attempt to get people who do not subscribe to cable or satellite to put roots down in the broader MSNBC community. “Shift” will grant access to MSNBC programming for people who subscribe to cable or satellite distributors.

Should “Shift” prove popular, its content could be reserved for people who can authenticate a video subscription, MSNBC executives said. At present, however, “We just want to get people to watch it and see what works,” Griffin said.

What viewers see will look a little different from the fare available on MSNBC, which has its roots in cable-news tradition. “Shift” users can tune in various programs between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Wolffe explained. At other times, viewers will see a loop of programming. Most new shows are likely to run once a week, not every day, and MSNBC will also broadcast documentaries and live coverage of events when warranted. One program, “Reporter’s Notebook” hosted by Beth Fouhy, will let MSNBC reporters offer the back story on their reportage. Hosts on “Shift” will not sit behind desks, Wolffe said. “It’s much more casual – different faces, a younger crowd.”

Josh Barro, who writes for the New York Times’ “The Upshot,” will tackle “Three Cents,” a program centered on economics. “Left Field” will examine sports issues; a host has yet to be named. Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC News staffer who has gained notice in recent months for his Middle East reporting, will lead “Roadmap,” a show that examines the factors behind complicated stories like the rise of ISIS. Reporters will be able to file “notebooks” that show what happens behind the scenes on a story. Krystal Ball, the co-anchor of MSNBC daytime show “The Cycle,” will host “Krystal Clear,” a show centered on issues related to younger women. “Way Too Early” anchor Thomas Roberts will host “Out There,” which focuses on LGBT issues that drive the news cycle. Janet Mock, a transgender rights activist, is at the center of “So Popular!” The show looks at celebrity and pop-culture news through a progressive lens.

Other programs will tackle immigration (“Changing America,” hosted by Maria Teresa Kumar); the “green” lifestyle (“Greenhouse” with Tony Dokoupil”); and interviews with policy wonks (“Nerding Out,” with Dorian Warren). And Wolffe, who has written extensively on the Obama presidency and Spanish cooking, will host a show on books.

What viewers will not see is original programming streaming during MSNBC’s primetime, or the network’s primetime TV hosts performing additional duties on “Shift.” That is deliberate, said Wolffe. MSNBC does not want to offer content that will compete with its stalwarts like Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews or Maddow. “Primetime is premium,” said Wolffe.

To get word out about the new shows, MSNBC is likely to use “Shift” hosts and topics in segments on some of its programming, said Wolffe. He envisions a segment about sports cropping up on “All in With Chris Hayes” or “Morning Joe.” MSNBC will also use social media to draw attention to the new offerings, and will employ the hashtag #ShiftHappens.

“Shift” debuts little more than a year after the relaunch of MSNBC.com. Once a broad news portal that once hosted content from Newsweek, MSNBC.com was transformed into the new site for NBC News once parent company NBCUniversal bought out Microsoft from a partnership in MSNBC. The new iteration of the MSNBC website was designed as a way to build community and allow viewers to interact with the network’s TV shows.

The new effort comes as Griffin has tried to push MSNBC as a home for the progressive community, enlisting hosts like Jose Diaz-Balart and Ronan Farrow in an attempt to lure a new activist generation and emerging American demographics, much in the same way that new, so-called millennial-focused outlets like Pivot and Fusion have tried.

“Shift” represents “a way to innovate, do things differently and find out what works,” said Griffin, adding, “I don’t want to call it a farm system. It’s a place where we get to experiment, and I guarantee you, stuff is going to pop.”

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  1. Henry says:

    Get rid of Al Sharpton !!!

  2. Cecil says:

    MSNBC needs real programming on weekends, instead of the preponderance of prison shows and hidden-camera “reality” shows. All politics, all the time is simply tiresome. These proposed online shows could succeed in finding an audience that doesn’t want to listen to Dems & the GOP sounding juvenile or “go to prison,” as Rachel Maddow facetiously tells us to do every Friday at 10 ET.

    • libertyman62 says:

      MSNBC MUST continue to have the prison shows. MSNBC provides on the the few opportunities that its viewers will ever get to see or hear their nearest relatives who are incarcerated, which may include up to 80% of its viewership.

  3. Switters says:

    Soooooooooo, why is it that few (if any) national liberal news orgs survive for long? Al Gore’s network…Air America, etc….?

  4. Hubert Walker says:

    Now if only they would book people from Free Speech TV more often. Glad to hear they’re keeping the progressive leanings despite liberals increasingly getting their news from multiple sources instead of staying on MSNBC.

  5. Raul Jimenez says:

    Is like putting lipstick on Fidel Castro.

  6. >> “Shift by MSNBC”

    LOL — that’s this lame strategy’s name? That was the best these media gurus come come up with? Let’s be honest — it’s MS-NBC which means that first word has one letter too many. Take it out and THEN it would accurately describe the flaming train wreck of programming that Phil “I deserved to lose my job ages ago because I’m totally clueless” Griffin keeps putting in place.

    Then again, I can’t WAIT to see these new shows just to see how they’ll now give sports and everything else in life a far Left laughably loopy Liberal spin. If nothing else, it should be good for a day or two of laughs, at which point — as is par for the course with MS-NBC — the ratings will totally tank.

    • And, pray tell, oh aptly monikered one, what brand names have you coined or cable networks have you successfully run lately? Anybody can trash talk slinging hoary pejoratives while sniping from the sidelines. Precious few can fill the likes of Phil’s shoes. I never met the man, don’t know him from Adam, nor you, but a modicum of common sense can distinguish easily enough between the weight of his chops and the illusion of yours.

  7. Bill Wilson says:

    Nothing violent, now; that scares leftists. That means anything with a ball or uniforms.

    Tell you what, BSNBC – just have randomly-ethnic people show up, give them all a trophy and send them home victorious. That’ll keep your defective lefties happy.

  8. John Barnett says:

    Doesn’t matter what they do, people will see MSNBC and turn the channel, these people ruined the brand when they hired Al Sharpton and Rachel Madcow.

  9. R.E. Marsh says:

    Hank Haney and Scott Hamilton would be a big improvement over Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz.
    Bob Costas, not so much.

  10. Uh, huh. No surprise here. This is Phase One of the plan to get rid of the progressive wackos. Soon the entire channel will be flooded with sports, book talks, celebrity shows, and the like. And before you know it, Rachel Maddow and that other man Chris Matthews will be on the unemployment line.

  11. Jean Poole says:

    ”“I don’t want to call it a farm system. It’s a place where we get to experiment, and I guarantee you, stuff is going to PLOP.”

  12. John says:

    And oddly enough, Fox News viewership is at record levels. Weird.

  13. Morris Minor says:

    24 hours of chess. Can’t wait. /s

    • libertyman62 says:

      Chess? Are you kidding? This is MSNBC we are talking about here, whose base viewership couldn’t even graduate from high school.

      Lesbian mud wrestling sounds more appropriate for these guys.

  14. Barry bin Inhalin says:

    If a sporting event falls in the woods on MSNBC, will anyone watch?

  15. sherman says:

    The LAST time I watched MSNBC was in 2002….what a waste of cable access space…

  16. Alphonse Dee says:

    Well, it has certainly failed as the “Comedy of News Clown” network. Silly sports may revive it. LOL.

  17. Only way they have to get people to watch. Lunatic left stuff is really not working for them…

  18. ciscokid16 says:

    I recently changed the channel to MSNBC the other day … and they had on a program called “The Car Chasers ” .. lol.. holy cow.. it was a horrid! Reality ala FOX / Kardashian stylee… haha.. the show was mindless!!.. Are they trying to reach out to there alternate audience?? .. because they don’t have ANY audience anymore!!…

  19. Nahhhhh. ESPN has ruined sport news as it is…. Probably won’t even surf through this garbage

  20. DaveVB says:

    Maybe a how-to show on what to do when your cable channel is circling the drain?

  21. ragu4u says:

    They may as well try it. God knows, they can’t get the news right!

  22. Mike Herman says:

    That’s always been the case at MSNBC. What’s the big deal? Oh….you said SHIFT. Never mind.

  23. Steve Quinn says:

    How many Redskins games will they broadcast?????

  24. Chuck says:

    Was that “shift” or was that (fill in the blank)

  25. Sam Bell says:

    MSNBC is a complete JOKE. Any “news” outlet that gives a guy like Al Sharpton a regular show has absolutely no ethical fiber. Even Fox News should be ashamed for having him as a guest.

  26. Elvis says:

    Will the new sport be the white rich libs chasing down and making fun of the minorities?

  27. ciscokid16 says:

    I recently changed the channel to MSNBC the other day … and they had on a program called “The Car Chasers ” .. lol.. holy cow.. it was a horrid! Reality ala FOX / Kardashian stylee… haha.. the show was mindless!!.. Are they trying to reach out to there alternate audience?? .. because they don’t have ANY audience anymore!!

  28. p3orion says:

    MSNBC sports? Well, I suppose that’s better than pretending that they’re a news channel, but will the commentators continue the MSNBC tradition of picking one team and relentlessly cheering for it, while denigrating the other team as evil and stupid?

    Suggestion: have Rachel Madow covering women’s softball. We all know she wants to.

  29. On their sports programming, nobody will keep score and everybody gets a trophy.

  30. materialism says:

    Nothing can be done to save the liberal media. The audience is too small now that Obama has destroyed liberalism.

  31. Clete Torres says:

    MSNBC is a news channel?

    Couldn’t prove it by their programming. All I see is them acting as National Socialist Democrat Party propagandists in the likenesses of Goebbels and Riefenstahl.

    • Garr Obo says:

      They might have a little problem finding left-wing, liberal sports commentators.

      • Dork Patrol says:

        They won’t have any problem. Bob Costas will be their one and only liberal sports commentator and provide lots of liberal rants for them.

  32. dave says:

    How about dumping all the ultra liberal cheerleaders of Obama and all the lies that the black racist Rev. al spits out every night( twana brauly , duke la cross).

  33. ImJustAGuy says:

    You’ll watch a game, but the audio will be replete with leftist ideology. No thanks!

  34. JR says:

    I have a novel idea for MSNBC. Why don’t you become a news channel, focusing your efforts on quality journalism. I know that would be a radical change that would likely require all personnel be replaced, but I think it might work.

  35. commentarycat says:

    24/7 Infomercials would pull better ratings than anything else currently in the programming line up on MSNBC. I suggest the following:
    Slap Chop
    Comfort Wipe
    Wearable Towel
    Snuggie
    Potty Putter
    Bark Off
    Booty Pop
    Silver Sonic XL
    Shake Weight (for men)

  36. BillTex says:

    Imagine a restaurant chain, maybe McDonald’s, coming out with a new chain, maybe called McDonald’s Leaning Up, that serves its food rectally. It’s not comfortable, not satisfying, and certainly doesn’t leave a good taste. MSNBC serves NBC News rectally. And people like Mr. Griffin have failed to learn that.

  37. Neuro Mancer says:

    All 100 or so MSNBC viewers are OK with this just as long as there’s no violence, competitiveness, and women are equally represented.

  38. Mike0oSS says:

    Sports on MSLSD? This could make a good match…since most pro sports people are already on drugs….what could it hurt? The junkies will watch sports on any channel…even one with a government propaganda agenda

  39. Torrey Baird says:

    MSNBC will live stream games where they don’t keep score, to keep it fair.

  40. Why should I watch MSNBC? I won’t even watch NBC.

  41. Alternet09 says:

    I’m with the cooking show idea from “Joe” (below). They would most likely double their viewing audience right at the get-go, but again, that isn’t saying much…

  42. Joe says:

    How about a nice cooking show for eight hours?

  43. Stephen A II says:

    Poor MSNBC. So much hate and anger. So little people interested in their gross nastiness.

  44. Alternet09 says:

    They can’t do news, might as well try sports.

    • I’m in that golden 25 – 54 group. I try from time to time and click on MSNBC. I understand the left slant but they are WAY over the top. Even when they offer an opposing view, that view is weak and slanted. And don’t get me started on the Dear Rev Sharpton. MSNBC is in a tail spin in a time where we need reporting like the old 60 minutes. And by that I mean before They got slanted. Investigative reporting is what is needed today, not the fluff and gossip junk. But sadly those days are gone and its all about Pop culture thus Sports Gossip Reality shows. This is what I suspect MSNBC will be doing…Sad very sad that leaning forward has resulted in MSNBC falling on their faces..

  45. BillTex says:

    The thing I don’t understand is why hasn’t MSNBC tainted the NBS News brand? Brian Williams does well even though his news case is void of anything negative about Obama. Have these words ever left Mr. Williams’ mouth: Jonathan Gruber? No. The only difference between MSNBC and NBC News is that they don’t act as crazy on the flagship network.

    If MSNBC ratings were higher, it might have hurt NBC’s. Those extra people would be viewing not because they agree with the looney hosts, but because it is a freak show. (I occasionally watch because it’s funny to see how people can twist logic to come up with false narratives.) More viewers would see how MSNBC is similar in coverage to NBC, and they would realize they aren’t getting a true picture of what’s going on in their country by trusting Brian Williams.

    Bottom line, Mr. Griffin, while you hope to improve MSNBC’s ratings, beware. Higher ratings or the crazies there will be damaging the brand of NBC News because more people would recognize the bias of all operations at 30 Rock.

    • Alternet09 says:

      “…I don’t understand is why hasn’t MSNBC tainted the NBS News brand?”
      Most likely why MSnbc stays hidden behind the “MS” even after Microsoft backed out.

  46. ezbruce says:

    Let me guess: running (of the mouth), jumping (to conclusions), skipping past facts…and don’t forget the downhill slide.

  47. BitCoin says:

    Lawls, Who even watches MSNBC. All they do it lie, lie, lie. No matter what, what, what.

  48. Well they can’t do news so they may as well try sports…..still wouldn’t watch that channel, they’d put a liberal slant on sports…

  49. CitizenCarrier says:

    Sounds like what happened to the Columbus Air America affiliate a few years ago. It was a sports talk station. Then went all socialist Air America format. Then came the endless PSAs and 2 minute long bumper music segments because nobody was buying advertising. It limped along for awhile until giving up and going back to all sports.

    MSNBC says it has to keep evolvling? That’s another way of saying what we’re doing doesn’t work. Most Americans are not wretched, miserable, and misanthropic, which appears to be MSNBC’s target audience. And let me give you a heads up on the show about books. It’ll be left-wing political books reviewed, with the occasional black author writing the inevitable “black American experience” book, leavened out with books that will only appeal to hipsters.

  50. William Lund says:

    Maybe your news is that bad that know one watch’s MSNBC anymore. When you lean one sided and don’t tell the truth. We usually in this world call it propaganda.

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