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At MSNBC, Ratings Challenge Looms For Ronan Farrow

Soon-to-be MSNBC anchor Ronan Farrow has had no trouble courting attention off the air. But how will he fare when he gets behind the desk starting February 24?

The Rhodes Scholar, one-time Obama foreign policy official and child of celebrities has cut quite a swath through media-obsessed pop culture since the NBCUniversal-owned cable outlet announced in October it was developing a program with him at the center. Indeed, even without a program on the air, Farrow is slated to appear this evening on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

When he returns and gets down to the business of broadcasting regularly, however, Farrow may find he’s in for a challenge. MSNBC has been finishing third in his 1 p.m. time slot to Fox News Channel and CNN for months.

According to Nielsen, the current resident of that time slot, “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” has seen its ratings slump, in both total viewers and audience in the demographic most coveted by advertisers in news programming, people between 25 and 54. A spokeswoman for MSNBC did not respond to an email query seeking comment on ratings competition and plans for Farrow’’s program.

Farrow would appear to be one of MSNBC’s brightest hopes. His pedigree and past experience make him instantly interesting. His background has drawn the interest of The New York Times Magazine, and he recently made an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, told the Times Magazine that he came across Farrow on Twitter, and was quickly drawn to him. Griffin said he “loved the way [Farrow] talked about things.” After meeting for a talk, said Griffin, “Within 20 minutes I wanted to hire him” adding, “He’s got it.

The question is whether Farrow’s intelligence and charisma can help turn the time-slot tide.

For the bulk of January of last year, for example, “Andrea Mitchell Reports” duked it out with CNN while losing to Fox News. According to Nielsen, the show captured an average of 511,000 viewers overall and an average of 150,000 in the 25-54 demo. In the same month, Fox News Channel attracted an average of 1.16 million overall and 231,000 in the demo, while CNN notched an average of 527,000 overall and 124,000 in the demo.

Since that time, however, MSNBC’s 1 p.m. ratings have tumbled. For the bulk of December, “Andrea Mitchell Reports” won an average of 289,000 viewers and 86,000 in the demo. Fox News Channel lured an average of 1.11 million overall and 206,000 in the demo, while CNN secured an average of 361,000 overall and 99,000 among viewers between 25 and 54.

In January to date, Fox News Channel has held sway, luring an average of nearly 1.2 million overall viewers to its “America’s News Headquarters,” anchored by Alisyn Camerota and Bill Hemmer, along with an average of 232,000 in the 25-to-54 demo. CNN has attracted an average of 399,000 to its “CNN Newsroom” along with an average of 110,000 in the 25-to-54 demo. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” has attracted an average of 315,000 overall viewers and an average of 98,000 in the 25-to-54 demo.

Mitchell’s show is being shifted to noon, where it will compete with a new CNN berth for Ashleigh Banfield and Fox News’ “Happening Now,” hosted by Jenna Lee and Jon Scott.

When Farrow takes the anchor chair, he will find himself vying with Fox News’ Camerota and Hemmer as well as CNN veteran Wolf Blitzer, who is hosting “Wolf” in the 1 p.m. hour. As always, the ratings will likely tell the tale.

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