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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The NYT & Mediaite Weigh in on CNN & Jon Klein

From Mediaite's Colby Hall:

Cable news ratings for the first quarter came out this week, and its been a rather tough day for CNN. Writing for the NY Times, Bill Carter’s story includes a headline that screams “CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings.” No, it’s not good news – or more to the point — it’s actually more bad news. Insiders have long whispered about what’s going on at CNN, and alas, the continued and consistent poor ratings mean that its finally time to openly question Jon Klein’s future in his role as President of CNN.
In today’s piece for the NY Times, Carter wrote:

CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.

CNN had a slightly worse quarter in the fourth quarter of 2009, but the last three months have included compelling news events, like the earthquake in Haiti and the battle over health care, and CNN, which emphasizes its hard news coverage, was apparently unable to benefit.

The losses at CNN continued a pattern in place for much of the last year, as the network trailed its competitors in every prime-time hour. (CNN still easily beats MSNBC in the daytime hours, but those are less lucrative in advertising money, and both networks are far behind Fox News at all hours.)

Carter is putting it nicely. Some lowlights for CNN’s First Quarter include the following:

•CNN is down by double digits for every program in P2+ and A25-54
•CNN lost nearly half of its prime time demo viewers for the quarter – network was down 42% over 1Q’09
•Anderson Cooper is down a whopping 46% in the demo (at 10pm) and down 42% in P2+
•Campbell Brown had her worst quarter ever with Total Viewers (down 44% in 25-54 and down 40% in P2+)
•Larry King had his worst quarter ever with both Total Viewers and Adults 25-54 (down 43% in 25-54 and down 44% in P2+)
•CNN’s recent addition, Rick’s List, is down 49% in 25-54 and down 42% in P2+
•American Morning is down 29% in 25-54 and down 32% in P2+ and is getting beat by Morning Joe for the first time ever for an entire quarter in P2+
The news is not good for CNN, but to be fair, the cable news landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. Opinion media, or as some would call “Personality Journalism” appear to be the most commercially viable (and most watched) programs on cable news. Fox News ratings dominance is well accepted (and their murderer’s row prime time lineup often rates better than MSNBC and CNN combined.) Under Klein’s leadership, CNN’s has eschewed personality driven, or opinion programs for straight news (though Larry King sometimes fits in that category.) CNN’s sister channel HLN is the place for personality, featuring Nancy Grace, Joy Behar and Jane Velez-Mitchell. Not surprisingly, HLN is widely viewed as enjoying a resurgence, while CNN is fading.

“Jon Klein is a strong leader and a talented programmer, and he has my full support.”
Jim Walton — President, CNN Worldwide

Which bring us back to Klein. Let’s start with the prime time line up. Most television programmers understand a basic trough to crafting a lineup – keep viewers tuned in from show to show, ideally offering consecutive programs that offer some common ligature between them. It’s sort of best viewed as a relay race – and the most successful networks handle the hand-offs beautifully. In that context, let’s look at CNN’s prime time lineup for the last three years. At 7PM Lou Dobbs offered a unique blend of business news and right-of-center politics, followed by Campbell Brown at 8pm – a show who’s amorphous mission was “No Bias, No BS” or something. At 9pm we have the legendary Larry King, who clearly appeals to an older demographic, then back at 10pm, the allegedly young and hipper Anderson Cooper till midnight. If anyone can explain the programming logic here, please comment below. Because this slate flows about as well as the Hoover Dam.Last Fall, Lou Dobbs abruptly left his spot on the CNN dial, which gave Klein a perfect opportunity to show some creativity and forethought at the 7pm spot. He chose CNN Reporter John King, a rather predictable choice, that says as much about CNN’s lack of up-and-coming talent at CNN than correspondent John King. King is a world-class reporter, but his straight-ahead style recalls Judy Woodruff, Deborah Norville, Connie Chung, Campbell Brown, Aaron Brown, and sadly, every other failed CNN prime time program

When it comes to serious news reportage, nobody does it better than CNN (evidenced by their quick, thorough and intense coverage of the Haitian earthquake.) And in the brave new world of partisan news, there is a place for a fair arbiter of news; which is a role that CNN has ostensibly tried to fill. But unbiased does not mean uninteresting – as it often appears on CNN.

Earlier this year, Jon Klein seemed to suggest that ratings are besides the point, that advertisers are loathe to associate themselves with the sometimes bitter opinion makers, choosing instead to go with the safe outlet. In fact, while speaking at a NY Media Summit, Klein made that very point. Writing for, Meghan Keane reported:

Speaking at the 2010 Media Summit in New York, the president of CNN said that television ratings don’t paint an accurate picture of his network’s strengths. But his reasoning is interesting — it’s not because FOX is beating them there, but due to competition from online sources that aren’t being tracked by the Nielsen ratings.

FOX consistently beats CNN in the ratings. And Klein has plenty of evidence to prove that those ratings don’t present a fair portrayal of popularity. For instance, CNN had 100 million viewers last month. That’s 10% more than FOX’s 90 million. But FOX’s visitors stay longer, view more often during primetime, and do other things that Nielsen takes into account when compiling its rankings.Klein says “we think of ourselves as being first.” But that’s not exactly how these things work. Even if CNN sees itself as the most fair and balanced, informed and fast network out there, that doesn’t mean that viewers are going to.

To be fair, the larger point of the importance of being first, fast and fair is completely legitimate. But its convenient for Klein to dismiss the importance of television ratings, particularly with regards to CNN’s economic viability. One would gather that neither Jim Walton (President, CNN Worldwide) nor Jeff Bewkes (CEO of TimeWarner) would be quick to agree with Klein’s assessment. You know who else would disagree? Jon Klein from exactly five years ago to the day, when he told Charlie Rose:

“A couple of years down the line, we ought to be essential viewing. You ought to actively look to see what it is we have on when you come home, because we will have by then well established the idea that we’re always giving you some fresh angle or fresh information that you couldn’t get in any other way. That’s — I’ll consider that success. And my bosses will, too.”

When reached by Mediaite, CNN provided the following quote from Jim Walton: “Jon Klein is a strong leader and a talented programmer, and he has my full support.”

Jon Klein is a gentleman and an intellectual who is widely regarded as a class act, and is beloved personally on the staff at CNN. But the continued and consistent failure of ratings (and unspired programming choices) beg the question: how much longer will Jon Klein be allowed to drive this ship into the ground?

Disclosure – prior to working at Mediaite, I wrote and produced for HLN.

And the New York Times article by Bill Carter:

CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.Anderson Cooper, seen reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Haiti, has had trouble holding onto viewers.
The trend in news ratings for the first three months of this year is all up for one network, the Fox News Channel, which enjoyed its best quarter ever in ratings, and down for both MSNBC and CNN.

CNN had a slightly worse quarter in the fourth quarter of 2009, but the last three months have included compelling news events, like the earthquake in Haiti and the battle over health care, and CNN, which emphasizes its hard news coverage, was apparently unable to benefit.

The losses at CNN continued a pattern in place for much of the last year, as the network trailed its competitors in every prime-time hour. (CNN still easily beats MSNBC in the daytime hours, but those are less lucrative in advertising money, and both networks are far behind Fox News at all hours.)

About the only break from the bad news for CNN was that March was not as bad as February, when the network had its worst single month in its recent history, finishing behind not only Fox News and MSNBC, but also its sister network HLN — and even CNBC, which had Olympics programming that month.

CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.

But the numbers are stark: For the network’s longest-running host, Larry King, who has always been regarded at CNN as the centerpiece of prime time because he drew the biggest audiences at 9 p.m., the quarter was his worst ever.

Mr. King’s audience dropped 43 percent for the quarter and 52 percent in March. He dropped to 771,000 viewers for the quarter from 1.34 million in 2009. More alarming perhaps, Mr. King, whose show has been regularly eclipsed by Rachel Maddow’s on MSNBC (and is almost quadrupled by Sean Hannity’s show on Fox), is now threatened by a new host, Joy Behar on HLN (formerly Headline News.)

In her first full quarter competing with Mr. King at 9 p.m. Ms. Behar wound up beating him in the ratings 21 times.
CNN has given no indication that any changes in its lineup are imminent, but recently announced that it would try a series of specials in a talk-show format at 11 p.m. with its current 10 p.m. host, Anderson Cooper. The specials are interpreted by some at the network as a trial run for a new 9 p.m. show with Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Cooper has long been regarded as the strongest host at CNN, but his show has suffered badly as well. For the quarter, Mr. Cooper dropped 42 percent in viewers and 46 percent among the 25-to-54-year-old audience that the news channels use for their sales to advertisers.In the past, CNN relied on big audiences for Mr. King’s show to deliver viewers to Mr. Cooper. Now Mr. Cooper sometimes finds himself losing to repeats of shows on MSNBC and HLN. (At the other end of prime time, Campbell Brown’s show on CNN at 8 had its worst quarter ever with the 25-to-54-year-old audience.)

Even in the morning, CNN is sliding. Its “American Morning” show dropped behind “Morning Joe” on MSNBC in total viewers for the first time; it still beat the MSNBC show among 25- to 54-year-olds, though it was down 29 percent from a year earlier.

At the same time, Fox News, which had its biggest year in 2009, continues to add viewers. Greta Van Susteren’s show was up 25 percent from a year earlier. Bill O’Reilly, whose show commands the biggest audience in prime time with 3.65 million viewers, was up 28 percent, and Glenn Beck was up 50 percent from a year earlier.

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Anonymous said...

We could have written this article Phebe. We know it all too well and we have given our suggestions over and over and no one listens at CNN.
Well, maybe 360 listened and is doing away with the panels but if they keep taping certain segments instead of going live, it will fail again.
News today is 24/7, no dumbing down and no taping. No excuse for it. None.
Interesting that Phil Donahue, who is what close to eighty now, says that CNN should stay the course. Well his show didn't last a minute on MSNBC. Aaron Brown is right. When you are beaten by reruns you are in BIG TROUBLE. And the larger problem, no one seems to mention, is if you put AC opposite Maddow and Olberman live, .....Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Anonymous said...

Note to Phil Donahue: FOX NEWS has been #1 for almost ten years. CNN doesn't have the time to stay the course and be "admired."

Anonymous said...

Right now I think Jeff Bewkes will leave things
up to Jim Walton.I have to say a complete overhaul
and the only safe show is 360.I know one thing
I hear people say these days is that CNN gives too
much coverage to the Tea Party and hate. That is
what is turning people off. CNN tried to go for
people who watch Fox and ended up losing it's
viewers.We don't want FNC , that is why we are
watching CNN.I think CNN should do something
really radical become the first cable news channel
to get rid of the talking heads except for the
shows that are on politics.No more pundits in
prime time.I could care less what some pundit
says . I have FaceBook & Youtube so I am not
impressed with your opinions because I can
post my own. CNN needs to drop the crawl
and really become a 24/7 news channel.
Bring the world to my living room not the
talk and quit rehashing the same old news.
Definitely get rid of Ali Velshi and Rick
Sanchez if you want your credibility back.

Anonymous said...

No show is safe in lite of this atmosphere at CNN and morale must be very low indeed.
I have always said I would like to hear AC give his opinions. He has compelling viewing in the field because he GIVES his opinions and so we watch. What is wrong with opinion? Absolutely nothing judging from FOX NEWS and their ratings.

Anonymous said...

CNN is in trouble for what people call trying to
be FOX lite. Anon 707 I agree news is 24/7 and
CNN needs to reflect the changing times. They
had better not bring back Crossfire. that is the
problem with CNN not forward thinking.I think
they should become the news alternative. Get
rid of the clunky graphics and banners that get
in the way of video. Develop a digital modern
look for television. Enough of the tv monitor
shots its is the dumbest thing ever.I don't
understand why CNN has issues with full
screen video and how come the banners are
not on one line. The graphics take up to
much of the screen and is not visually
appealing. Lets remember television is a
visual medium. You are not talk radio or
the WWF.

1. Drop the crawl and replace it with more
news items with pictures & a sentence
going in and coming out of commercials.

2. At the bottom of the screen have a media
bar like you do on the internet with times
on the left and right. For all packages.

3. Develop a system to actually look like
a 24/7 news channel. All through out
the day develop a system to store all
of the stories into various categories .
Make graphics for all subject matters
with about 5 seconds of music and
just let it flow.. Just have the talent
do short intros and when the piece
is done have their pic with a brief
description of what they do for CNN.
Open this up to all of the CNN employees.
You might just find a gem. There has to
be dozens of stories from CNN, CNN I and all of the affiliates that
CNN has al around the country.CNN
is overboard with repeats.If a show
is the same each hour why is it on
for 2 hours. Start this at midnight
and stop with the prime time repeats.
It will give a boost to your morning
show. Which needs fresh material by
the way.I don't need to see the exact
same package from 360 from the
night before.

4. Bring us original reporting we will not
see anywhere else.

5. Give us international news.I hope for
a couple of hours a day.

6. Give us better shows. Does the title
of the dayside shows have to be the
Newsroom for 6 hours. They says
to me all of the same stories over
and over again.

7. Develop a smart & intelligent news
program for women. By this I mean
the female anchors, reporters etc
at CNN but not of the political type.
Women care about the news. Please
have a diverse ethnic mix. Rotate
with 3 or 4 anchors. Personally, I
think it would be a great lead in
for Wolf. For 2 hours no female
pundits just journos.No need for
ideology just news and interesting
topics. Create a show that is like
Ning. i destination for women on
the internet.

Never forget you are CNN.No more gimmicks
and keep it real.

Anonymous said...

I think CNN should hire Conor Knighton to
replace Larry King. RIght now he hosts Infomania
on Current.It is a weekly look at the media. I
say hire him to do a daily show about the news
and media on a daily basis.Also hrie all of the
Vanguard journalists at Current. They are
Mariana Van Zeller, who would be a great
replacement for Christiane. Adam Yamaguchi,
Chrisof Putzel. Kaj Larsen,Laura Ling,Also,
hire others from Current like Brett Erlich,
Jael de Pardo, Jason Silva, Max Lugavere,
Rawley Valverde and Douglas Caballero.
I say these people because they can
relate to today's generation who create
and make their own media.Really, if you
guys get the chance, take a look at all
of their work on Hulu.It is great work.
CNN needs to expand its news operation.
CNN needs a game changer and ideology
will not save CNN, It will only make matters
worse. You can watch cable news all day
long and you might get 24 minutes of news.
That is why CNN is in trouble.CNN is
suppose to tell me what is happening in
the world not what peoples opinions are.
Besides don't take advise from newspaper
guys, They can not even figure out what
to do to save themselves. Looking at the
show rankings on TVN, AC is topping
MSNBC in viewer but not the demo.
CNN needs better story selection and
less annoying anchors.I have a feeling
you could hire all of the people from
Current and it will not cost you 8 million.

Anonymous said...

CNN needs to find the Steve Jobs of the news biz.
In the mean time the have to make some decisions.
Will you be news/information or misinformation.
Real news or rhetoric. News centered or politically
centered. Will you push for excellence in journalism
or continue to dumb down the news. Will you give
it to us straight without the over analysis. These
are simple questions that can be answered right
away and can be visually witnessed.CNN will not
disappear it is a worldwide brand.CNN must adapt
and constantly update it's brand. In this day and
time I have already heard some of the news you
are talking about.If I can consume news from
various sources what makes you think I don't
get the news I am seeing. i have a brain.

Anonymous said...

What a shame. Yesterday Wolf Blitzer had 88,000 for his demographic in his second hour. I think John Kings' program has effected his ability and performance. This was another wrong move for CNN. It made Blitzer seem incapable of handling another hour and John King very "ho hum."
MSNBC is pounding CNN in the totals. Only 360, with its choppy editing on Scientology and repetition, seems to be surviving.

Anonymous said...

Anderson seems to be getting some of his
viewers back and 360 is the # 1 show so
far this week. What's interesting is that 360
seems to pick up viewers. IMHO CNN viewers
are tired of all of the politics. Maybe it is time
for TSR to bring back 2 internet reports and
add global news segments. I don't think people
are digging John King, USA.If anything it has
made Hardball's numbers go up.I say go anchor
free at 8 and just run stuff from
and maybe let viewers submit news stories
or interesting items. Sort of like a Digg news
format. CNN has a related story and can
run the story in relation to the subject matter.

Anonymous said...

I think the lead in of Rick Sanchez & John
are both hurting Wolf.CNN should never
have removed Wolf from the 4 pm hour.
I would like it if they would hire Chelsea
Handler. She has always talked about
having a show on CNN.I say have Wolf
on from 4-6. If CNN were to hire Conor
from Current, put him on a 6. Knighton
is considered to be a younger Jon Stewart.
He could perhaps give CNN a demo bump
before prime time.

Anonymous said...

@8:02PM: So what you're really saying is that WE should do their work while THEY get paid??
John King should have said let me have SOTU for one more year and cut it down to 2 full hours and then repeat at 12 noon. I don't know what made him anchor daily but the inducement had to be image and a tremendous increase in salary."
AC might have picked up more of an audience from his coverage in Haiti, new viewers who never saw him in the field before.

Anonymous said...

OK...I don't care what the totals are on Thursday's 360, but if it keeps up, being as disjointed and incoherent as it was tonite, I will not be watching.
There was NO THEME. Everything but the kitchen sink was thrown against the wall from bullying and scientology, to Guam being over populated and a new segment called, "Dispatches from the Planet Washington!" No really, what??? Who thought of this nonsense and why? Just when the totals were good, CNN comes and messes the program up like a bad recipe.
So now we're trying to be Jon Stewart. AC, please don't. There is only one and you are you. Don't change. Just get your boss fired!!!

Anonymous said...

I actually liked the planet Washington segment
since the place is like another planet. I don't
think you need the pundits.It seems to me that
whenever the political shows are not doing well
someone at CNN thinks lets try it on 360.I like
a huge wide range mix of stories.I think there
are way too many times when the news is just
too predictable. I do have some thoughts about
other things. I am wondering if AM is falling
because know they are doing the comments.
You can't use social media to comment on
stories during news shows. Social media
should be used to find stories. Unless it is
a live event for an hour or more and you can
have real time comments on the related
subject it will never work for television.
After 10 secs CNN should drop the intrusive
banners.CNN has got to find away to not
clog up the screen.CNN please hire more
writers,producers, photographers and
editors. During the 2nd hr of 360 last
night there was a Steve Perry segment
with Pharell . The only problem was you
never saw the website or him actually
doing anything but sitting down for
the interview.Also, where was some of
his music. Some of this music should have
been mixed in with during the interview.
That seems to be a problem with a lot
of the stories on CNN. The production
value is not that good.C'mon guys step it
up. I can do better stuff with Final
Cut Pro at home. Even during the post
with Anderson and Steve Perry you
never saw the website.

Anonymous said...

@8:05AM: We disagree. I dislike Steve Perry intensely and I am an educator. That man is not. If he's spent 5 minutes in a classroom it was a long time. All he does is criticize teachers but HE is not one. His creds are very limited because I've already done the research. Not showing him with or without music is just fine by me and I'm sure other educators, and there are many out there with outstanding credentials. CNN must do some more FACT CHECKING, but they are too lazy.

Anonymous said...

Politico thinks CNN should be more into
the back and forth between the left & right.
Of course Politico is about politics. That is
a problem that I have with a lot of these
solutions for CNN. None of these people
know anything about tv news. CNN should
be the network where news thrives.In the
end it is all about presentation and how
it comes across on the air. The Current
format is a natural way for CNN to go.
The material on alone is a huge
source of material for CNN television.
I think CBS has great production for it's
evening news program. These people
are basically telling CNN to get out of
the news biz & that is not possible for
CNN.CNN has tried to get farther and
farther away from news and that is
just not flying with it's viewers.The
news junkies are being forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Spud has more suggestions that people have
for CNN. One of them even thinks 360 should
not be in prime time. Let's hope that CNN does
not listen to these people.I think there is a battle
taking place in cable news. If, the talking heads
are shown the door, they won't get to see their
faces on television. Cable news should never
have embraced the noise to began with.No
pundit should have a prime time show on CNN.
I guarantee you that would be the end of CNN.
I know I would join the protest and boycott.
I'm waiting for some brave news executive to
stand up and say enough we are news not
a place for people to talk loud and say
absolutely nothing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous 4:03, If we want to know what Spud or his readers have to say we are perfectly capable of checking out his site. I'm not sure why you feel it necessary to tell us what he/they have are saying.