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According to six sources noted in a Daily Beast report on Thursday, Rachel Maddow is “seriously considering” leaving MSNBC.
Maddow’s contract with MSNBC expires early next year, and she has floated the idea of starting and growing her own independent media company.
A network determines a star TV host’s value by the potential of their likely successor. Fox News’ successful transition from Bill O’Reilly to Tucker Carlson was an anomaly. Look at TV hosts like starting quarterbacks. Fox’s passage from O’Reilly to Carlson was the Packers going from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. It’s luck. If Fox News didn’t have Tucker Carlson waiting, O’Reilly’s departure would have damaged FNC’s primetime ratings.
Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow to MSNBC’s bench is the Patriots going from Tom Brady to Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham. Unless they are hiding, MSNBC does not have its Tucker Carlson waiting on the bench. To MSNBC, Maddow is irreplaceable.
Networks judge primetime hosts by their ability to raise the channel’s overall base audience. In July, MSNBC’s ratings jumped from 1.4 million to 2.3 million at 9 pm, when Maddow came on. Nearly a million more people watched Maddow than Chris Hayes, her lead-in host. Once Maddow signed off at 10, the ratings fell to 1.5 million. This states, in July, MSNBC’s base audience in primetime was around 1.5 million, and Maddow was worth another million viewers
If MSNBC can’t retain Maddow, its list of in-house replacement candidates is short. And none of them would maintain her reach.
Neither Hayes nor Lawrence O’Donnell has the appeal to replicate Maddow’s success. What’s more, NBC would not stand for the promotion of an on-air white male. MSNBC is high on Nicolle Wallace — the network even discussed moving her to Meet the Press at the expense of Chuck Todd — but her style doesn’t translate to primetime. If Maddow departs, I’d look for MSNBC to move Joy Reid, TV’s most noted race-baiter, to traditional primetime hours (8 to 11 pm ).
MSNBC needs Maddow more than Maddow needs MSNBC. In fact, Maddow doesn’t need a TV network at all. Recent trends suggest that Maddow could make more money long-term by owning her own content via licensing deals, sales, and partnerships.
Joe Rogan agreed to a $100 million licensing deal with Spotify in 2020. This year, Spotify inked a similar agreement with Call Her Daddy host Alex Cooper for three years, $60 million. Presumably, Maddow could make well over eight figures a year with her own digital project. And while moving away from primetime would cost Maddow in raw viewership numbers, her reach would remain intact.
Digital media hosts Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and Steven Crowder have more influence over their listeners and viewers than most TV hosts. Podcasts and digital shows reach fewer consumers than primetime cable news, but their audiences are younger, more responsive and engaged, making such shows both lucrative in monetization
Finally, Maddow can leave TV, start her own company, and add more life to her days. Maddow’s nightly program airs from 9 pm to 10 pm. That requires writing, preparation, and discussion beginning early in the day. Maddow admitted in an interview with the New York Times last year that, between writing a book and hosting her show, she barely has any time to herself.
Digital media has consistently closed the gap with linear TV over the past five years. Outside of overpaying her, MSNBC has few cards to play in negotiations with Maddow.
Knowing this, Maddow and her agents could seek a contract that mirrors Bill O’Reilly’s final deal with Fox News, a deal worth $100 million over four years. MSNBC president Rashida Jones could not scoff at that demand.