“The News With Shepard Smith” stumbles in first year

Hard news show flops with viewers but will stick around – for now 

NewsNation isn’t the only new news venture seeking to struggle when it comes to attracting viewers looking for non-partisan newscasts.

An unflattering profile in The Daily Beast last week showed CNBC’s The News With Shepard Smith struggling with declining ratings – not to mention behind the scenes turmoil. Recent ratings reports show Smith’s show hovering around 197,000 viewers last month in its 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) hour-long time slot – down from a peak of 296,000 in February. The News is also flagging in the 25-54 demo, a huge key selling demo for news ranking eleventh on CNBC’s entire schedule. However, CNBC claims ratings are up from last year’s time period occupant (off-network episodes of Shark Tank) and last month viewers watched 7.2 million hours of the show across all platforms.

Even though The News is performing better than NewsNation’s prime-time average (28,000 total viewers with 5,000 in the 25-54 demo), the higher expense – especially Smith’s reported salary at $6 million a year, puts a bigger financial drain on CNBC than any news program does on NewsNation.

The article also reveals some tensions between staff of The News – especially with Smith, who reportedly “thrown tantrums” and seen the departure of a key producer a few months into its run. On March 8, technical problems zapped The News when a feed from where Smith was anchoring remotely went kaput as Contessa Brewer had to rush in (also remotely) to finish the show.

CNBC signed the former Fox News personality to a lucrative contract in hopes to bolster the network and add more “news” to the Consumer News and Business Channel. While a ratings success during the day with business programming, the cable network’s evening programming has met with mixed results. While off-network programming such as Shark Tank does draw viewers, CNBC has been criticized for relying on the ABC show too much with its almost-nightly binge-like airings.

Meanwhile, CNBC’s original prime-time programming has met with mixed results. While the network has had success with Marcus Lemonis’ The Profit, Jay Leno’s Garage, and docuseries American Greed, CNBC has had more misses than hits (A Deal or No Deal revival, West Texas Investors Club, The Job Interview, Restaurant Startup, etc.) Newer shows haven’t been original or inspiring in concept. In addition to the failed reboot of Deal, there was a travel show with Lemonis and upcoming Money Court with Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary, which is basically Hot Bench with financial disputes.

The problems surrounding NewsNation were already documented here and elsewhere as recent scheduling changes eliminated their original three-hour prime-time news block, effective September 27. Like The News, there has also been behind-the-scenes drama with several key personnel departing, notably NewsNation news director Jennifer Lyons. Both Newsnation and The News started last September at opposite ends of the month – the former on the first and the latter on the 30th.

So why are viewers rejecting these shows? Daily Beast pointed out the “poor time slot” Smith’s show is in, and it airs in the “prime access” hour in the Eastern and Central time zones, where it competes against other news programs both local and national – a few stations still run network newscasts at 7 p.m. such as WRC Washington and WSB-TV Atlanta, not to mention longtime stalwarts Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! and the PBS NewsHour. 

Plus, there’s a glut of news programming in the marketplace, which makes it harder to stand out and break through – the same problem NewsNation is experiencing. And don’t forget the ongoing dominance of the three cable news networks.

Nevertheless, CNBC and Nexstar remains committed to both projects hoping to see ratings growth given news programming is still in high demand from advertisers and other marketers. But the real question is how much patience will they have – especially with CNBC and Shepard Smith? We’ll find out eventually.

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