CNN ran an ad in the first section of Thursday’s New York Times that directly addresses MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough. “Sorry Joe,” the ad’s copy trumpeted in bright red letters. “While you were leaning forward, we were moving ahead.” The ad then goes on to detail how “New Day” has beaten “Morning Joe” for the fourth consecutive month in snaring the most viewers and for the seventh consecutive month in capturing viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic most favored by advertisers in news programming.
Neither program captures the most viewers among the breakfast-TV set – ABC’s “Good Morning America” has that honor, hands down, and Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” is seen by more viewers than those that watch either of the other cable-news programs. The ongoing back-and-forth between CNN and MSNBC is really a battle among parents Time Warner and NBCUniversal for a power-broker audience that can help either company win more money from advertisers.
At “Morning Joe,” the goal is to have a longform discussion of issues that appeals to power brokers in places like Washington, D.C., a stance that has lent the program a wide sphere of influence in a small but powerful audience niche. In recent months, “New Day” has tried to go after that viewership slice as well, but with something different: a show that is focused on the news, not on offering opinion or what executive producer Jim Murphy has called “rants.”
“New Day” is “a good show that is based on the understanding of taking what matters seriously but not taking ourselves seriously,” anchor Chris Cuomo told Variety in July. At the time he said he felt the program was “significantly challenging ‘Morning Joe’ for the mandate of having the smartest show on cable television, and I want that mantle.”
The Time Warner-owned network may feel it has wind at its back. It recently dispatched co-anchor Kate Bolduan, at the time out on maternity leave, to a later hour, and replaced her with Fox News veteran Allisyn Camerota. Camerota has worked along with Cuomo as “New Day” continued to gain in the ratings.
In January, “New Day” averaged 339,000 viewers up 87% from the year-earlier period. It also snared its highest average audience, 138,000 among the 25-54 demographic. And it won more viewers on the days of and after President Obama’s State of the Union address.
The question will be whether “New Day” can make additional inroads into “Morning Joe’s’ vaunted bookings. During the week of the recent United Nations General Assembly, the MSNBC program hosted everyone from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former Israeli president Shimon Peres – all in a single week.
MSNBC hasn’t shied from the fray. In December it ran an ad in the New York Times touting “Joe’s” record among overall audiences over several years. It’s no secret, however, that MSNBC’s ratings have declined after the last presidential election. The network has made attempts to widen the prism of its coverage by sending anchors out into the field and putting more emphasis on breaking-news coverage.
In an interview with Variety in September, Scarborough attributed “New Day’s” rise to a string of big, breaking-news stories, something to which CNN has given the lion’s share of its reportage under the aegis of Jeff Zucker, who joined as president in 2013. ““CNN does very well when the world is blowing up,” Scarborough said. “I just tell everybody to keep doing the show you’re doing. When locusts stop descending from the heavens, we will start beating them again.”
On Thursday, Scarborough wasn’t shy about making his reaction to the CNN salvo known on Twitter.
Cute ad but CNN is firing people. Morning Joe is hiring. Oh yeah. And more people have watched Morning Joe than CNN & HLN 5 years in a row.— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) January 29, 2015
In every fight, there is a punch, and then a counterpunch. Viewers will have to wait to see how and when MSNBC chooses to return CNN’s volley.