MSNBC Sees Ratings Spike As Brian Williams Returns

Surge of viewers also comes amid pope's visit to the U.S.
Brian Williams' return to TV coincides with a ratings spike for MSNBC.
Brian Williams' return to TV coincides with a ratings spike for MSNBC.

Either the pope’s U.S. visit is drawing in viewers or people have really missed Brian Williams, who returned to television Tuesday after a six-month suspension for lying about various reporting experiences, including coming under fire in a military helicopter in Iraq.

MSNBC enjoyed its highest-rated day on Wednesday since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, the network announced in a statement, bringing in 518,000 total viewers and 93,000 viewers in the coveted 25-54 age demographic. Wednesday's coverage was up 15 percent in total viewers from the previous day, and up 67 percent from the previous four weeks.

The news offers early validation for the rebranding effort currently underway at MSNBC, which has suffered from low ratings over the past year. Earlier this month, MSNBC President Phil Griffin characterized the shift as a “focus on live, breaking news in the daytime and smart, informed analysis and opinion in primetime.” 

To that end, parent company NBC has moved talent over to MSNBC, including Williams, who used to anchor “NBC Nightly News,” and NBC correspondent Kate Snow, who now serves as a weekday anchor on MSNBC in addition to anchoring Sunday’s edition of “Nightly News.” Williams’ former executive producer at “Nightly News,” Pat Burkey, has also joined him at MSNBC.

Williams has not addressed his suspension or return since coming back on the air, and sources at the company say he has no plans to do so. His colleagues have also been instructed not to acknowledge his return on air. Williams did, however, tell the “Today” show in June that the suspension had been “torture.”

“I said things that were wrong. I told stories that were wrong,” he said at the time. “It wasn't from a place where I was trying to use my job and title to mislead. I got it wrong. I own this, and I own up [to] this.”

Gabriel Arana is senior media editor at The Huffington Post.