MSNBC Proves the Power of Cable

By Alex Weprin 

In today’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz writes about MSNBC, profiling NBC News president Steve Capus along the way:

The recent resignation of ABC News President David Westin, who had to cut 25 percent of his staff this year, underscores the tough sledding facing the broadcast networks in an era of declining audiences. But Capus, a genial former producer who took over the news division five years ago, says the gloom-and-doom reports don’t apply to his network. In fact, senior executives say NBC, MSNBC and CNBC are on track to have their most profitable years ever, generating about three-quarters of a billion dollars in combined profits. Roughly a third of that comes from MSNBC.

The story is an interesting one, in that it focuses on the business-side of the network rather than the sexier programming-side. Two key takeaways are after the jump.


As mentioned in the article, NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC are expected to generate around three-quarters of a billion dollars in profit this year.

Those profits can be chalked up to the lucrative cable subscription business. According to SNL Kagan, in 2009 CNBC received approximately $0.29 per subscriber per month, with MSNBC receiving $0.16. Spread that across nearly 100 million households, and those numbers add up.

Kurtz focuses on MSNBC, but CNBC is believed to be the real cash-machine of the bunch, with reports saying that it is the second most-profitable of all the NBC Universal cable networks, behind only USA.

NBC News, the broadcast entity, would likely be facing many of the same challenges ABC News and CBS News are dealing with were it not for its cable siblings.

The second takeaway is that everything Kurtz wrote about MSNBC and NBC News could also be written about Fox news Channel.

Everything that has allowed MSNBC and CNBC to thrive in this new economy is driving FNC as well. FNC currently earns about $0.58 per subscriber per month, according to SNL Kagan. And on the advertising side, even though FNC has a lower CPM than MSNBC or CNN, it makes up for it by bringing in far more viewers.

In the article, Kurtz got FNC communications chief Brian Lewis to give a juicy quote attacking MSNBC:

Fox Executive Vice President Brian Lewis responds that “NBC, and especially MSNBC, is not even a blip on our radar screen. We don’t care what they do. Capus must be confusing us with CNN” as a close competitor.

Notice how he also managed to get a dig at CNN in there? Very clever.

Lewis has a point when it comes to MSNBC’s ratings, but when it comes to profits, CNBC and MSNBC appear to be in the same ballpark as his own channel.

He also ignores “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” both of which generate ratings FNC–or any cable news channel–could only dream of.

Related: Inside Cable News notes that Kurtz removed a reference to Dan Abrams from his original article.