NBC is going to change the name of its popular website MSNBC.com so that the public does not associate it with the liberal cable network MSNBC.
The cable network MSNBC unveiled this week “Lean Forward,” a new ad campaign which embraces its lefty agenda. At the same time, the mothership, NBC Universal and partner Microsoft ran the other way, taking the huge MSNBC website with them.
“They want to change the name of the website because they don’t want the NBC name even more associated with MSNBC,” says a network insider. “NBC News doesn’t want to be known as the left-leaning, the ‘forward leaning’ outlet.”
The corporate brass decision to disassociate its brands was caused by the public’s confusing the uber-liberal cable TV outlet with the straight-news website of the same name, according to internal memos obtained by The New York Times.
The president of MSNBC.com, Charlie Tillinghast, wrote in one of the memos that “naming them the same thing is brand insanity.”
MSNBC.com gets over 50 million users a month, making it the third biggest news website, after CNN.com and Yahoo.
The NBC executives’ decision to change is a risky marketing maneuver and says a lot about how much the network brass abhor association with the liberal cable outlet.
“The websites for these cable channels are much more aligned with what people want,” says one media strategist. “They are more popular, they just give people what they want, when they want it. Caring more about the user than themselves.”
The MSNBC cable channel makes no attempt to give balance political news. The network’s shows are anchored by hyper-liberals—Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell.
The NBC network correspondents and producers, who attempt to be straightforward reporters, say they are embarrassed to be associated with the liberal cable outlet and fear being “tainted” by association with it.
Fox is by far the cable news ratings leader, but MSNBC is second, beating CNN in prime time. However only 50% of the public knows the MSNBC brand, compared to 96% recognition of the CNN brand.
“It’s a niche world out there but we’re going to own this world and ‘Lean Forward’ is going to be the lens by which we own it,” said MSNBC President Phil Griffin.
The “Lean Forward” campaign is Griffin’s baby; it will include bus and train signs, print advertising and 60-second commercials directed by radical movie director Spike Lee.
The multi-million dollar campaign is the biggest and costliest in the cable network’s history and is planned for two and a half years, concluding at the end of President Obama’s term in the White House.
MSNBC and the Obama White House has a mutual love-fest. In an official briefing, Deputy White House spokesman Bill Burton said that “Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow … keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values.”
The niche audience which Griffin is targeting is the small number of Americans who identify themselves as liberals. He is unabashed in describing his audience as East Coast, blue state, urban, elite.
Griffin said that the “Lean Forward” campaign targets “the entire East Coast corridor, where we know we have a large audience.” He said you’ll see the “Lean Forward” ads “at Grand Central Station… Penn Station, Philadelphia…in Washington because we know that’s a really important corridor.”
MSNBC isn’t even attempting to advertise outside of the insular world in which its anchors and producers live themselves. Basically, if you live anywhere outside of the D.C. to NYC corridor, MSNBC doesn’t expect you to watch.
However, the president of MSNBC.com is not happy with the limited audience targeted by the cable TV outlet. Tillinghast wrote that the “Lean Forward” campaign “only exacerbates the brand misalignment problem” and leaves the website an “impartial news product.”
“Fox is obviously more right of center but no one is running from the Fox name,” says a network insider of the MSNBC brand-name hot potato.
“It’s just so funny that MSNBC is now tainted. It’s the danger of picking a direction like that.”
Disclosure: My first job out of college was at NBC News’ Washington bureau. I was a Desk Assistant, which is a fancy term for peon.