As Vote Saga Drags On, Net Rolls Up Sleeves


Shirt sleeves rolled up, Lester Holt paced the MSNBC studio last week, drilling network reporters glued to PC monitors on the latest election-related information.

Hand-held camera operators followed Holt around the newsroom set throughout the day. And MSNBC also used pictures from roving reporters in Florida, from the hallways outside the recount rooms to the MSNBC news truck, where left-over Chinese food was on display Wednesday night.

"The whole concept was to let people in on what we do as part of the way we cover the news," said MSNBC executive producer Ramon Escobar in discussing the network's behind-the-scenes approach to covering the election, which has paid off in ratings gains.

Many of the shots were very low-tech.

On Wednesday night, Ashleigh Banfield wrote out recount information on a weather map. Tim Russert also figured his own tally on a grease board.

"The idea was to do that both in the studio and out of the studio, and to provide a level of detail and grit that the viewer would say, 'Wow-that's interesting,'" Escobar said. "Yeah, I could turn to any other channel and get that they're counting in Palm Beach. But did you know that they're watching TV inside?"

MSNBC is posting larger percentage gains than Cable News Network or Fox News Channel, but the network is still trailing its two all-news rivals in the ratings.

From the day after the election (Nov. 8) to Nov. 20, MSNBC was up 200 percent in total-day ratings and up 151 percent in primetime. The network averaged a 0.81 Nielsen Media Research total-day rating and 496,000 households. In primetime, it averaged a 1.03 rating and 630,000 households.

CNN was the top-rated all-news network for the same period, averaging a 1.2 rating (up 166 percent) and 928,000 households. Fox News Channel placed second with a 0.9 rating (up 110 percent) and 477,000 households.

But FNC's ratings appeared to be on the rise as the election saga wore on. On Nov. 20, it won primetime with a 1.4 rating, beating CNN's 1.3 and MSNBC's 0.9.

Although MSNBC still trails FNC and CNN, the network has significantly narrowed FNC's lead since October.

Both CNN and FNC crushed MSNBC last month, when MSNBC averaged a 0.4 primetime rating and a 0.3 total-day rating. CNN and FNC finished the month tied, with a 0.9 primetime rating and a 0.4 total-day rating.

"We're ecstatic," Escobar said. "Fox positions themselves as the political channel. So for us, we're delighted, and people have been watching in huge numbers."