Chris Hayes “is exactly the kind of host liberals — especially liberals who hate cable news — should love,” according to a recent New Yorker essay. But Hayes’ new show is drawing the lowest ratings in MSNBC’s 8 p.m. time slot since 2006. What gives?
Hayes’ introduction to primetime was highly anticipated when his nightly show arrived in the spring.
“All in w/Chris” replaced “The Ed Show,” with MSNBC selling the move as Hayes being able to reach a broader viewership than the older school, blue-collar populist, Ed Schultz.
“Up w/Chris,” the weekend show that launched Hayes’ career in 2011, featured complex and lengthy policy discussion, and Hayes is considered a fair host for spirited debate. Avik Roy, a Manhattan Institute fellow, told the Washington Examiner that Hayes “has a respect for principled disagreement. While he and I might disagree about most policy issues, he gives the other side a chance to have its say in a way that some of the prime-time hosts on Fox do not.”
The first episode was widely regarded as a success, with BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw writing that “All In w/Chris Hayes” made “Fox News and CNN look stale by comparison.”
The premiere performed well with the 25-54 demographic desired by marketers, coming in only 12,000 viewers behind Fox News’ the “O’Reilly Factor” and seeing a 200,000-viewer bump from Chris Matthews’ show, “Hardball.”
But after those strong opening numbers, Hayes’ ratings have declined.
While MSNBC has tilted to the left in recent years and is widely seen as a counterpoint to right-leaning Fox, its programs — unlike Fox’s — must compete with networks across the liberal and centrist spectrum, from Comedy Central’s satirical programs to the traditional broadcast networks to the moderate CNN.
In such an environment, Hayes’ opinionated-but-fair format may lack the firepower and venom to attract the ratings of his competitors.
“It’s a pretty tough market for pureed, partially predigested Democratic talking points,” said National Review’s Kevin Williamson.
And Hayes’ market may lack ideological impetus.
“The Left runs on anger at perceived injustice, but also hope that social empathy and solidarity will produce humane public policy,” said Rich Yeselson, who writes about politics, culture, and one of Hayes’s favorite topics — labor. “The Right runs on anger, too, but it’s an anger that norms of hierarchy and authority are being undermined.”
The result, Yeselson said, is “MSNBC can’t merely copy Fox’s resentment machinery.”
Hayes has adopted a more strident tone in recent months, which may signal an attempt to bluster up his normally wonkish style. And his previous show, while never a ratings monster, did build a devoted audience.
Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s president, has expressed full support for Hayes.
Hayes’ frequent sparring partner Roy hopes the show turns it around: “We’d live in a better country if Chris’ show, and other shows like it, succeed.”