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For MSNBC, The Word Is Progress

MSNBC’s latest promos tout “the best primetime on cable news.” The lineup of Abrams, Matthews, Olbermann, Cosby, Scarborough, Carlson seems to have solidified, and the network has enjoyed some gains in the 25-54 demographic.

“We’re quietly building up the channel, and I’m happy with the progress we’re seeing. I really am,” NBC News president Steve Capus told TVNewser a few weeks ago.

In a move that surprised some observers, a 5pm broadcast of Hardball was added to MSNBC’s schedule in September. Capus noted that the network has seen a “dramatic increase” in the program’s ratings and explained the thinking behind the decision:

“If you program these channels like you’re programming a traditional broadcast channel, you’re doomed,” he said. “Cable is a different game altogether. It’s a different audience. We know it’s a rolling audience…Sometimes somebody might catch the first 15 minutes of the broadcast and they might watch the last half an hour on another feed.”

He continued: “We think it’s all about putting compelling programming on at convenient times, and if it’s compelling programming, people will come and watch.”

MSNBC has also experimented with broadcasts of Scarborough Country and The Abrams Report at 4pm. In recent weeks, the network has cancelled Connected: Coast to Coast, canned its weekend entertainment programming, and developed an upcoming program called “Weekends with Connie and Maury.”

The ratings gains, especially in the 25-54 demo, have mostly taken hold post-Katrina. (See MSNBC’s charts demonstrating this trend here. Year-to-date in the 25-54 demo, MSNBC is averaging 99,000 viewers in total day (up 2% from 2004) and 148,000 viewers in prime (up 6% from 2004).

“I don’t like that the only way anybody ever talks about it is in the context of its ratings,” Capus said. “I’m not naive enough to believe it’s not part of the story of MSNBC. Of course it is. But it’s not the only thing…That channel has produced countless hours of great programming.”

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