MSNBC is an American cable television channel that provides NBC News coverage as well as its own reporting and political commentary on current events. MSNBC is owned by the NBCUniversal News Group, a unit of the NBCUniversal Broadcast, Cable, Sports and News division of NBCUniversal (all of which are ultimately owned by Comcast).
MSNBC and its website were founded in 1996 under a partnership between Microsoft and General Electric’s NBC unit, hence the network’s naming. Although they had the same name, msnbc.com and MSNBC maintained separate corporate structures and news operations. msnbc.com was headquartered on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, while MSNBC operated out of NBC’s headquarters in New York City.
Microsoft divested itself of its stakes in the MSNBC channel in 2005 and in msnbc.com in July 2012. The general news site was rebranded as NBCNews.com, and a new msnbc.com was created as the online home of the cable channel. In the late summer of 2015, MSNBC revamped its programming; the moves were in sharp contrast to previous programming decisions at the network.
MSNBC sought to sharpen its news image by entering into a dual editorial relationship with its organizational parent NBC News. MSNBC Live, the network’s flagship daytime news platform, was expanded to cover over eight hours of the day. Phil Griffin is the president and director of day-to-day operations at MSNBC.
As of September 2018, approximately 87 million households in the United States (90.7 percent of pay television subscribers) were receiving MSNBC. In 2019, MSNBC ranked second among basic cable networks averaging 1.8 million viewers, behind rival Fox News.
MSNBC was established under a strategic partnership between NBC and Microsoft. NBC executive Tom Rogers was instrumental in developing this partnership. James Kinsella, a Microsoft executive, served as president of the online component, MSNBC.com, and represented the tech company in the joint venture.
Microsoft invested $221 million for a 50 percent share of the cable channel. MSNBC and Microsoft shared the cost of a $200 million newsroom in Secaucus, New Jersey, for msnbc.com. The network took over the channel space of NBC’s 2-year-old America’s Talking (AT) network, although in most cases cable carriage had to be negotiated with providers who had never carried AT.
MSNBC was launched on July 15, 1996. The first show was anchored by Jodi Applegate and included news, interviews, and commentary. During the day, rolling news coverage continued with The Contributors, a show that featured Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, as well as interactive programming coordinated by Applegate, John Gibson, and John Seigenthaler.
Stories were generally longer and more detailed than the stories CNN was running. NBC also highlighted their broadcast connections by airing stories directly from NBC’s network affiliates, along with breaking news coverage from the same sources.
MSNBC gradually increased its emphasis on politics. After completing its seven-year survey of cable channels, the Project for Excellence in Journalism said in 2007 that, “MSNBC is moving to make politics a brand, with a large dose of opinion and personality.” In January 2001, Mike Barnicle’s MSNBC show started, but it was canceled in June 2001 because of high production costs.
In June, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer said that he would not have started MSNBC had he foreseen the difficulty of attracting viewers. MSNBC and NBC News began broadcasting from their new studios at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center complex in New York City on October 22, 2007.
The extensive renovations of the associated studios allowed NBC to merge its entire news operation into one building. All MSNBC broadcasts and NBC Nightly News originate from the new studios. More than 12.5 hours of live television across the NBC News family originate from the New York studios daily. MSNBC also announced new studios near the Universal Studios lot.
MSNBC was not available to Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse television subscribers in the portions of New York State, northern New Jersey, and Connecticut that overlapped Cablevision’s service area. One of several reasons for this was an exclusive carriage agreement between MSNBC and Cablevision that prohibited competing wired providers from carrying MSNBC. The terms of the agreement were not publicly known.
In 2009, Verizon filed a formal “program-access complaint” with the Federal Communications Commission and petitioned for termination of the deal. In support of Verizon, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal argued that the arrangement could be illegal. After entering into a new contract, FiOS added the channel in New York City and New Jersey on February 2, 2010.
In southern Africa, MSNBC is distributed free-to-air on satellite on Free2View TV as MSNBC Africa, a joint venture between Great Media Limited and MSNBC. Free2View airs MSNBC’s programming from 4 p.m. to midnight ET in a block that repeats twice (live for the first airing), with local Weather Channel forecasts.
In Asia and Europe, MSNBC is not shown on a dedicated channel. When MSNBC started in 1996, they announced plans to start broadcasting in Europe during 1997. This never happened although MSNBC was seen occasionally on affiliate channel CNBC Europe until the end of the 2000s, showing the channel overnight at the weekend and during the afternoon on American public holidays as well as during breaking news events.
In Turkey, NTV-MSNBC is the news channel of the Turkish broadcaster NTV Turkey. The channel is a joint partnership between the two, although very little Turkish content is shown on English MSNBC. English content on MSNBC is translated into Turkish.
MSNBC and its website msnbc.com were launched concurrently. Unlike the network, msnbc.com was operated as the general online news outlet of NBC News in partnership with Microsoft’s MSN.com portal. The network and website also remained editorially separate. The website did not adopt the network’s increasingly liberal viewpoints and remained a joint venture with Microsoft even after it had sold its stake in MSNBC.
In July 2012, NBC acquired Microsoft’s remaining stake in msnbc.com and re-branded it as NBCNews.com. After being redirected to the new name for a period, msnbc.com was re-launched in 2013 as the website for MSNBC. The website included opinion columns from hosts, correspondents, and guests, along with live and on-demand videos from MSNBC programs.
MSNBC Radio launched on XM Satellite Radio channel 120 and Sirius Satellite Radio channel 90 on April 12, 2010. This is the second time MSNBC has been available on satellite radio. The channel was dropped from XM Radio on September 4, 2006. The simulcast of MSNBC’s programming is on SiriusXM channel 118.
In November 2007, a New York Times article stated that MSNBC’s primetime lineup was tilting more to the left. Since then, the commentators argued that MSNBC has a bias towards left-leaning politics and the Democratic Party. Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz, while previously in the same role at The Washington Post, stated that the channel’s evening lineup “has clearly gravitated to the left in recent years and often seems to regard itself as the antithesis of Fox News”
In 2011, Politico referred to MSNBC as “left-leaning”, and Steve Kornacki of Salon.com noted that, “MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics.” Regarding changes in the channel’s evening programming, senior vice president of NBC News Phil Griffin claimed that “it happened naturally. There isn’t a dogma we’re putting through. There is a ‘Go for it.'”
In the February 2008 issue of Men’s Journal magazine, an MSNBC interviewee quoted a senior executive as saying that liberal commentator Keith Olbermann “runs MSNBC” and that “because of his success, he’s in charge” of the channel. In 2007, The New York Times called Olbermann MSNBC’s “most recognizable face”.
In September 2008, MSNBC stated that Olbermann and Chris Matthews would no longer anchor live political events, with David Gregory assuming that role. MSNBC cited the growing criticism that they were “too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign.”
Olbermann’s show Countdown continued to run before and after the presidential and vice presidential debates, and both Matthews and Olbermann joined Gregory on the channel’s election night coverage.
On November 13, 2009, in the days leading up to the release of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue, MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan used photoshopped pictures of Palin on the channel’s Morning Meeting program. Ratigan apologized a few days later.
In October 2010, MSNBC began using the tagline “Lean Forward”. Some media outlets, including msnbc.com, claimed that the network was now embracing its politically progressive identity.
In January 2012, MSNBC used Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and other network commentators during its coverage of the Iowa Republican caucuses. Nando Di Fino of the Mediaite website said MSNBC was “giving up on the straight news coverage, and instead [appearing] to be aiming to create some controversy.”
In November 2012, The New York Times called MSNBC “The Anti-Fox” and quoted former President Bill Clinton as saying, “Boy, it really has become our version of Fox.” Citing data from the A.C. Nielsen TV ratings service, the article noted that while the Fox News Channel had a larger overall viewership than MSNBC, the two networks were separated by only around 300,000 viewers among the 25–54 age bracket most attractive to advertisers.
In the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “State of the News Media” report, MSNBC was found to be the most opinionated news network, with 85 percent of the content being commentary or opinions and the remaining 15 percent being factual reporting. The report also stated that in 2012, MSNBC spent only $240 million on news production compared to CNN’s $682 million and the Fox News Channel’s $820 million.
Others have argued that MSNBC has a bias against progressive politics. Phil Donahue’s show was canceled in 2003 due to his opposition to the Iraq War, and Donahue later commented that the management of MSNBC required that “we have two conservative (guests) for every liberal.
I was counted as two liberals.” Cenk Uygur, after his departure from MSNBC in 2011, said that MSNBC management had told him “people in Washington” were “concerned about [his] tone,” and that he “didn’t want to work in a place that didn’t challenge power.”