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The great cable news recalibration of 2022 is beginning.
On Jan. 10, each channel made splashy hires, with MSNBC and CNN poaching high-profile outsiders to work on both their linear channels and streaming, while Fox News promoted a popular regular to headline one of its critical hours.
MSNBC revealed that Symone Sanders, who up until last month was the chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, would host a weekend show and streaming program. A source familiar with the matter told The Hollywood Reporter that Sanders had been approached by multiple channels after she revealed her plans to depart, including CNN, but the hosting opportunity won out.
CNN, meanwhile, poached NPR’s Audie Cornish to host a CNN+ streaming show and work as a correspondent on its linear channel. And Fox News promoted The Five co-host Jesse Watters as its permanent 7 pm host, after a year of rotating guest hosts.
The hires shed light on the strategies being pursued by the respective channels, which keep relying on linear viewership and revenue for their businesses, but are simultaneously investing in streaming on the assumption that viewership will slowly migrate there over time.
MSNBC and CNN’s hires are focused on streaming, but with a linear component, putting the emphasis on where they think their business is going while maintaining that connection to cable, where most viewers remain for now. Fox News, meanwhile, continues to focus on its TV offering, where its bread is buttered, with Watters likely to “trickle down” to the Fox Nation streaming service in the form of replays.
MSNBC, under the leadership of Rashida Jones, needs to find a new 11 pm host and develop a strategy for when Rachel Maddow is widely expected to step aside from her daily 9 pm show. At the same time, it needs to build out it’s The Choice streaming platform, on NBCU’s Peacock. Sanders, who is likely to fill in for some of MSNBC’s primetime hosts, will play a role, at least in streaming.
At the same time, the hire marks a rare example of a host leaving politics and immediately joining a TV news operation as a host. While politicians and strategists routinely join cable news channels as contributors, and some (like Dana Perino and Nicolle Wallace) eventually shifted to host roles, Sanders’ rise at MSNBC is swift, coming less than a month after leaving the White House. The last cable news host to make the jump so quickly was Larry Kudlow, who joined Fox Business Network after departing the Trump White House .
CNN, meanwhile, is investing heavily in its forthcoming CNN+ streaming service. While it will include some current talent (Anderson Cooper will host two shows, including a parenting show) the company has been aggressive in poaching outsiders, including some names that may be surprising to CNN viewers. The latest hire was Cornish, the popular co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered. Cornish will host a weekly streaming show and a podcast, and will appear on the linear channel. She joins former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, and chef and author Alison Roman, who will also host programs for the service.
The hires underscore the less partisan nature of CNN’s streaming offering, at least compared to MSNBC and Fox News’ services, while trying to acquire a breadth of programming that it thinks may be of interest to paying subscribers. And of course CNN also needs to rebuild its primetime lineup following the firing of 9 pm host Chris Cuomo.
And at Fox News, the channel will finally fill the 7 pm hour with Watters, a year after announcing that the hour would shift from news to opinion. Fox’s focus remains on linear TV, where it dominates the ratings, beating CNN and MSNBC combined most weeks. However, Watters’ show will likely end up on the Fox Nation streaming service, which shows replays of Fox’s primetime shows the day after they air. And of course the channel could always cut a deal similar to the one it struck with Tucker Carlson, who produces original content for the streaming service in addition to his nightly show.
Fox News Channel’s streaming service, Fox Nation, does have a significant head start over its cable news competitors, having launched in 2018. That head start means it already has thousands of hours of content to build off of, and MoffettNathanson estimates that it has over 1 million subscribers.
Fox likewise looked internally to fill the slot, continuing a trend of developing and elevating in-house talent, rather than hiring high-profile outsiders. Fox has brought on names like Dan Bongino and Kudlow, but in less high-profile places.
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