With Brand-Builder Olbermann Gone, MSNBC Heads Into Uncertain Territory

It wasn't called The KOTV News Network: Keith Olbermann TV. But no single news personality was more associated with MSNBC than Keith Olbermann. Brand association? MSNBC = Keith Olbermann.  

Recent ratings data may suggest otherwise, but for much of MSNBC's ascent, the network rode on Olbermann's back to big ratings, notoriety, and, yes, controversy.

Olbermann was obviously outspoken and seemingly always having run-ins with management. This wasn't new. Fox News, ESPN, and CNN reportedly had issues with him as well in his previous assignments.

But you get what you pay for. And Olbermann gave MSNBC a singularly distinct, unapologetic, strong voice for the liberal side of politics. Passion is key among cable news network loyalists on either side of the aisle.

"They have GOT to be kidding! Olbermann IS MSNBC!!!!," wrote one blogger. "This will NOT stand! Keith has MILLIONS of loyal viewers who would not miss a minute of his program. MSNBC is asking for TROUBLE! There will be PROTESTS! There will be a BOYCOTT! This is OUTRAGEOUS!!!!"

It is the kind of TV engagement advertisers want. No doubt, fans of O'Reilly, Beck, and Hannity have similar connections.

But NBC News has something Fox News -- right or wrong -- doesn't have. That's a long straight-ahead, journalism legacy. To many older established NBC reporters/anchors, Olbermann's spiel never jived well with the established network's longtime ways. They continue to see MSNBC as an uneasy success.

If you advertise on MSNBC, you're probably wondering what's next. Olbermann's exit would seem to mean the loss of some existing rating points. And that can't help -- especially as new owner Comcast walks in the door.

The good news is that other MSNBC "personalities" are putting up Olbermann-type numbers. The bad? His over-the-top commentaries, which generated big headlines and PR buzz, will be hard to replace.

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6 comments about "With Brand-Builder Olbermann Gone, MSNBC Heads Into Uncertain Territory".
  1. Tom Fraticelli from The Roanoke Times , January 25, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.

    MSNBC...." a long straight-ahead, journalism legacy." What??? MSNBC has been a shill for the DNC and/or the Democratic President since its inception in 1996. It has steadily moved further left over the years. National journalism, with regard to politics, died a long time ago and MSNBC was among the first bullets that helped kill it.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 25, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

    Comcast Rule is only the beginning. The all commanding and powerful will grow as competition wanes.

  3. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , January 25, 2011 at 3:14 p.m.

    I'm a solid fan of Olbermann's work, and have been for a few years. I realize he's far from perfect, and he can sometimes be maddeningly corny and nerdy, but that's part of his charm.

    He's also one of, if not the most intelligent political commentators on the scene. And even more importantly, he understands the vital importance of wry humor when he deals with his subject.

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have the slapstick and goofy sides of political humor down cold, but Olbermann is the master of wry when it comes to politics. And that will be sorely missed by those of us who appreciate the value of poking the proverbial stick in the political opponent's eye with witty, intelligent, stinging rebuttal.

    What MSNBC, and their parent NBC-Universal, has failed to understand (yet again) is that viewers are loyal to the talent, and not to the network. We don't care what goes on behind the scenes. We only care about what we see on the screen.

    Dumping someone because they insulted your choice of necktie at a company cocktail party, or something similar, is a really dumb way to run a network. Then again, NBC has become expert at making poor decisions over the years, and I speak from personal experience.

    As tennis commentator Mary Carillo once said; "Never change a winning game, and always change a losing game."

    With Olbermann, MSNBC had a winning game, and they blew it. Again.

  4. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , January 25, 2011 at 3:28 p.m.

    Tom Fraticelli's comment below deserves a response. he wrote:

    "MSNBC....' a long straight-ahead, journalism legacy.' What??? MSNBC has been a shill for the DNC and/or the Democratic President since its inception in 1996. It has steadily moved further left over the years. National journalism, with regard to politics, died a long time ago and MSNBC was among the first bullets that helped kill it."

    The key term here is "among the first bullets", since if there wasn't a Fox News, there never would have been an MSNBC, at least in its current format.

    I agree that political broadcasting dialogue has changed over the years, but having a choice has always been the goal. Fox News presents the view from the Right, so someone has to present the view from the Left to maintain that choice and balance. That's the value of MSNBC.

    And as Fox moves further Right, MSNBC should move further Left. And those of us on either side should never call for the removal of the voice of the other side.

    National political journalism is still very much alive. The game is still being played. It's just a different playing field.

    As far as the "DNC shill" part goes, you may want to check other MSNBC programs. The Democrats, and President Obama, get hammered regularly, just not unfairly.

  5. Phil Lollar from LollarWorks LLC , January 25, 2011 at 7:17 p.m.

    Big ratings numbers? Are you kidding? Olbermann got only a fraction of the numbers the lowest Fox shows get. My guess is, like the monumental blowhard he is, he finally got too big for his britches with the people at MSNBC who matter, and they finally realized that he was more trouble than he was worth -- although with his out clause, they'll have to keep paying him for some time.

  6. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate , January 26, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.

    "With Brand-Builder Olbermann Gone, MSNBC Heads Into Uncertain Territory"

    I much preferred the old days when MSNBC was heading into certain territory.