Has MSNBC's 'The Beat' figured out how to reach younger viewers through a mix of breaking news, fascinating guests, hip hop lyrics and catchy daily segments? If current ratings are any indication, they may have succeeded.
Look at these numbers:
CNN, which used to draw more viewers for their entire prime time line up, is bleeding viewers, and it looks like most of them have switched over to MSNBC at 6pm. Let's look at the trend:
2017, 6pm time slot
MSNBC - 1.0M
CNN - 1.2M
2018, 6pm time slot
MSNBC - 1.32M
CNN - 752k
YouTube searches are another indicator of just how popular The Beat is with viewers. Some of the most searched videos from the show are Michael Avenatti clips, special episodes (Michael Cohen, Bob Mueller, etc) and this Joe Arpaio interview, where Ari has to remind Sheriff Joe that by accepting his pardon, he has admitted guilt (Spoiler: it did not go over well):
So what could be leading to this jump? As a long time viewer, I have some ideas. And I think these factors could also help get younger voters to the polls as well. The younger vote is critical in all elections, but the 2018 midterms are even more vital than possibly any election in modern history. Over 4,000,000 Americans will turn 18 this year and voter turnout could mean the difference between 2 more years of a slow walk towards authoritarianism under Trump or a split (or even fully) Democratic controlled Congress which can exert actual checks on Donald Trump.
Getting back to The Beat. What is it that they are doing to bring in the viewers and how could this bring voters to the polls?
First of all, and most importantly, Melber brings on a variety of guests that speak to both sides of the issues. The panels have representatives from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the spectrum. This is not something you see on most shows, where channels push their one sided agenda (I'm talking to you, Fox News). Some of the Republican voices Ari has had on include Bill Kristol, convicted felon (and former NY Rep) Michael Grimm, GOP political consultant Eric Beach, and many others.
Second, he breaks news. He has guests on that feel comfortable enough with him to disclose things that they had previously not openly talked about in any setting. A great example is Sam Nunberg, who is a frequent guest and has talked extensively about Roger Stone, Mueller and his interview (and subsequent Grand Jury testimony). Randy Credico, who has never done a sit down interview, has come on a few times - and each time he breaks news about Roger Stone.
This interview with Sam Nunberg was absolutely stunning to watch in real time. This was the day Nunberg was making the rounds on news shows, with many concerned for his well being and mental state. Between Ari and Maya talking gently and openly, Sam realized he had to testify. It was...remarkable.
Third, Ari has guests on that bring the fire. Michael Avenatti is the first guest that comes to mind. Maybe it is a combination of having two smart attorneys on the show together, but they have such a great back and forth that it makes for exceptional TV. Whenever Avenatti is on, he breaks news...this latest clip is a perfect example.
Fourth, non-political guests. Melber brings guests on that you would never expect to see on a political news show. Rappers, actors, comedians, Vogue editors, former NFL players. Would you ever expect to see any of these people on a show on CNN or Fox News? Probably not. But they have excellent opinions to share and some viewers, especially in the younger demographic, knows these guests by name through other means and will tune in to watch them. In this segment, Ari had on Dante Stallworth, former NFL player, to discuss the new NFL/Trump ban on kneeling:
Fifth, brilliant legal minds and journalists. His panels bring so much knowledge and experience, most nights it can be as informative as attending a college lecture in politics or political science. From frequent guests Maya Wiley and Neal Katyal, to former Watergate prosecutors, Nick Ackerman and Jill Wine-Banks, to a parade of journalists who break news on a daily basis - Ari's table is the one where guests want a seat. And when they come, they bring experience, facts, insight and knowledge that you don't often find on other news shows. Who can forget this epic segment where Nick Ackerman, former Watergate prosecutor and Roger Stone, former Nixon aide Roger Stone, got INTO IT:
Which brings me to the final, and most unusual factor.
Hip hop lyrics. Ari is known for mixing in hip hop lyrics into nearly every show, which leads to one of two scenarios: guests who totally understand the references or guests who get the "deer in headlights" look and smile along as the viewers laugh at home. Either way, it is exceptionally funny and witty and elevates the show from the expected droll news delivery to something interesting and unique.
One of the best panels showing the power of hip hop lyrics and politics was when Fat Joe and Talib Kweli were on with Bill Kristol to discuss the Eminem anti-Trump video. It was, quite honestly, my favorite segment ever on a news show.
So what does this mean for the future of cable news and voters? Well, it is clear that the 2000 model of a journalist sitting at a table, reading from a teleprompter won't work in 2018. Viewers want more. A lot more. They need an interesting and charismatic host, a variety of guests that represent both political parties to participate in lively debate, unpredictable guests that the host can rein in, guests from outside the "political bubble" (because, frankly, they can sometimes be boring) and hip hop lyrics. Or something similar.
This mix brings in the viewers, especially the younger demographic. And if this younger demographic chooses to watch the news, they are engaged, interested and invested. And if they are invested - they vote. Whatever The Beat is doing, it is working.