Keith Olberman, host of the MSNBC’s ratings giant Countdown, abruptly announced that Friday night’s edition of Countdown would be his last. Olberman has had a controversial run at MSNBC, but the network has built its brand and line-up around his liberal-leaning political commentary on Countdown and the audience ratings he garnered.
Olberman’s unexpected departure from MSNBC has prompted rampant speculation that he may have been pushed out as the powerful cable network Comcast recently got the go ahead from government antitrust regulators to merge with NBC Universal, MSNBC’s parent company. After he announced his departure, Olberman thanked his crew and finished out the show.
After Olberman’s show, MSNBC simply announced Olberman and NBC had ended their contract. The host’s contract with MSNBC was reportedly worth $30 million with two years remaining on the contract. But Olberman may not be the first casualty of the Comcast-NBCU merger: NBC Universal’s head, Jeff Zucker, also left the company as part of the merger deal.
The quarrelous host has butted heads with MSNBC in the past, most notably in November of last year when he was suspended by NBC Universal after making three monetary contributions to political candidates’ election campaigns, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. NBC meted out the punishment because Olberman violated company employment policy on political contributions by journalists. Olberman claimed that his contract did not require him to obtain NBC Universal’s permission before making a political donation.
Regardless, Olberman may not have been seen as a good fit for the new brand that will emerge at MSNBC after the Comcast-NBCU merger. Olberman may have also made the decision to depart after the merger to pursue other opportunities in other media venues.
Keith Olbermann signs off from MSNBC (CNN)