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Sunday, May 23, 2010

CNN Thrives...Except in Prime Time

This from National Journal Magazine:

Away From Prime Time, CNN Thrives
CNN sticks to its guns on news without opinion, except on the HLN channel.
by Erin McPike (The author is a reporter for CongressDaily)

Smack in the middle of the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, when businesses everywhere are hemorrhaging money and news organizations are suffering through an especially rough job-shedding crisis, CNN enjoyed its most profitable year ever in 2009. And almost midway through 2010, company executives say that the cable network is on track to improve on that performance.

Although it is in last place among the cable networks in prime-time ratings, CNN has achieved six consecutive years of growth, spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. Each year since 2003, when Jim Walton became president of CNN Worldwide, the network's profits have risen at least 10 percent, CNN says, but it declined to provide cash figures.

For months, the world's original cable news network has been hit with painful press coverage of its plummeting primetime audiences. CNN earns only about 10 percent of its revenue from prime-time programming in the United States, however. Competitors MSNBC and Fox News have moved deep into opinion on prime time and have boosted their ratings as a consequence. CNN refuses to join the trend, believing that it has a niche and that news consumption extends far beyond the evening hours.

The network has been talking in recent months with CBS News about combining reporting efforts, but no announcements have been made. Jeff Bewkes, president and CEO of Time Warner, CNN's parent company, told investors on a May 5 conference call that although there is no news yet on a potential CNN-CBS merger or partnership, the motivation for such a deal comes mostly from the needs of the "big three" broadcast networks. "CNN has a very strong financial performance," Bewkes said. "It is the fastest earning growth in the Warner network portfolio over the last five years."

In a note to staff on April 12, Walton said, "We are experiencing a down period in one segment of our business, CNN U.S. prime time. Critics have taken note and are offering all manner of suggestions for how to 'fix' CNN. What's missing from these reports is an essential component of our journalism: context."

The first prime-time shake-up came this week, when Campbell Brown announced she is leaving the network because of poor ratings for her 8 p.m. show.

Walton's communiqué noted that aside from prime-time revenue, "the remaining 90 percent comes from non-prime-time programming on the network, as well as HLN [Headline News],, CNN International, CNN en Español, CNN Airport Network, and all of the other CNN-branded news and information platforms that together deliver more news to more people than any other news organization in the world."

Despite the prime-time slippage, CNN continues to attract more unique viewers than its competitors overall, according to Nielsen surveys. In April, its 90.2 million viewers topped the 82.3 million who watched Fox News and MSNBC's 74.8 million. And HLN's 79.5 million viewers add to CNN's bottom line.

Brad Adgate, a New York City-based media analyst and the director of research for Horizon Media, said of CNN's success, "It's kind of a conundrum." The network has suffered in ratings since Fox changed prime-time news into a personality-driven medium, but CNN has been around a lot longer than its competitors. "It's a great brand," he said.

CNN's strength, Adgate said, is with "casual news viewers" who tune in when news happens. "You can't really control that spike in viewing," but there will always be late-breaking news. He called the network more of "a destination channel" for that kind of content compared with the other networks.

When it comes to advertising, he contended, CNN has a more difficult job because it doesn't guarantee the consistency that Fox News and MSNBC offer with their "appointment viewing" in prime time. "For years, CNN used to say that 'news is the star,' " Adgate said. But Fox has changed that with such personalities as Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. "MSNBC has copied that with some success," he noted, citing Keith Olbermann as an example. For its part, CNN has tried the personality game with names such as Brown and Paula Zahn, but it hasn't worked too well.

HLN posted another record-setting year in 2009, leaping 15 percent in total prime-time viewers. The Joy Behar Show, with its mix of political and pop guests, is gaining popularity and seems to be CNN's answer to the "infotainment" that has begun to overtake prime-time news programming. Because the show is on HLN, it has not compromised the vaunted CNN brand.

In a series of recent corporate memos, presentations, and in interviews with National Journal, CNN executives reiterated what they believe will keep them on top in the long term even as the news business undergoes radical change: the network's commitment to unbiased journalism.

Walton told the advertising community at a presentation in New York City recently, "We're the only credible, nonpartisan voice left, and that matters." The network's news-gathering capacity remains unparalleled. CNN offers longer, more in-depth packages throughout the day, when its competitors fill the hours with a variety of political strategists, bloggers, and academics.

When it comes to technology, CNN leaders note, they have always been first: The cable network was the first to launch; was the first affiliated website out of the blocks 15 years ago; iReport, its website for citizen journalism, debuted four years ago. In the presentation to advertisers, CNN U.S. President Jonathan Klein pointed out that CNN was integrating Twitter into its programming and news gathering "before most people even heard of Twitter."

"We're going to continue to innovate; innovation is in our DNA," Klein declared. "We'll continue to push the envelope, but we will never abandon our core faith in being the sole, nonpartisan cable network in this country."

To that end, has become increasingly important to the news organization's business model over the past five years and currently ranks No. 1 among news websites. Although has become its toughest competitor, remained on top with 38.7 million users in March, compared with's 33.8 million and's 17 million, according to the Neilsen NetRatings. averages 38.2 million users per month.

The website has other impressive "best" numbers: 1.7 billion average monthly page views; 1.4 billion total minutes spent by users on the site; and 25.7 average minutes per user.

The company supplies its online advertisers with a host of other metrics that confirm its No 1 status. In emerging technologies, it boasts that, according to a March Nielsen VideoCensus, CNN's 130 million video streams topped MSNBC's online by 11 million.

On mobile applications, CNN again leads the pack. Data mined from Nielsen's Mobile MediaView in February and trumpeted by CNN include this statement: "With 14.8 million unique visitors to its mobile site in February, CNN Digital beat the nearest competitor, Yahoo News, by 174 percent. This is the 38th consecutive month that CNN Digital has topped the news and current events category."

Being out front on the Web and on mobile technologies -- particularly as television programming becomes more specialized and compartmentalized -- is the root of CNN's continued success.

Greg D'Alba, executive vice president and chief operating officer for CNN ad sales and marketing, told National Journal that 80 percent of the deals it makes with advertisers are targeted to reach consumers on more than one platform. So the network's profitability, he said, results directly from driving advertisers "to spend more money across the board" as news consumers draw information from multiple places throughout the day. Not surprisingly, he said, "we find ourselves making more money across the board."

In the New York presentation, D'Alba explained that for CNN's brands, the availability of its news across many kinds of technological platforms "means primetime is all the time.... Clearly there's more news on more screens than ever before, but we believe there's less journalism, and that's the real difference. So for you, our valued advertising partners," he added, "a continued relationship with our brands will allow your message to get to the right person in the right place at the right time and when they're most engaged."

Network sources said that advertisers want to place more ads than the network has space. D'Alba, not wanting to chase away business, denied that assertion. "We don't put ourselves in a position where we can't accommodate advertisers." From its airport services, to HLN, to weekend and weekday programming, the network has plenty of room for ads, he said.

For now, CNN's model may not be getting the network great headlines, but it is keeping its employees happy. While some competitors are enduring layoffs and hiring freezes, Robinson pointed out, "CNN Worldwide ended the year 2009 with more employees than it started
with -- as we had the year before."

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Anonymous said...

I have said it before CNN makes a ton of money
off of various platforms. These media writers do
not get that the ratings will not affect CNN's
ways of making money. All of the the media
companies know that you have to be on multiple
platforms. There are some many ways for CNN
to make money worldwide. That said CNN does
need to concentrate more on news gathering
and presentation and content. Let journalism
thrive. Everything seems to be reduced to a
simple formula of in door studio chat. You
can watch CNN all day long and not get
any news. There is a lack of in depth repots.
I really don't think CNN uses all of it's resources.
I find myself going on line just to see the video
not covered up by what is all over the screen..
People buy 50 inch HD tv's to see more video
not less.If it is compelling video can we
see it. I think CNN really needs to upgrade
it's graphics and quit showing me video on
another screen or tv.It is not visually appealing.
A lot of times CNN looks too self-absorbed.
I don't care about any reporters list. What is
important to you may not be important to
me.CNN it is not about you. Remember the
viewers .In other words :do some news.

Anonymous said...

So again we have a PR message that says CNN is making money where they have little and CNN International where they can flash their brand name with little opposition.
CNN Primetime is brutal because that's the one place they DO have to compete and their losing.
By releasing these monthly updates on the condition of CNN finances the viewer is supposed to feel secure in watching a loser lose, and advertisers are to feel secure that their promotions are being viewed by those online and overseas...we'll just skip domestic everyone.

Anonymous said...

This headline should read: CNN Is Thriving, Ecept Where It Counts: On Television, Which Still Has the Largest Audience and the place everyone from reality star on, wants the opportunity to be on...and to repeat an old saying,"If you don't make it HERE, you don't make it anywhere." So take your cnnonline and CNNI and tell your fairy tale to people who actually have to believe you: YOUR EMPLOYEES AND ADVERTISERS.

Anonymous said...

I am waiting to hear these words "360 is
live in the Gulf all week long."

Phebe said...

@anonymous 7:54, They just said it. Anderson Cooper will be live from NOLA on Tuesday night.

Anonymous said...

ICN has a post on an article in the Baltimore
Sun pleading for CNN to stay the course.
CNN is America's and one of the biggest news
operations in the world. I hope CNN takes this
advise.Of course, Spud has a rebuttal. I think
it explains why CNN has lowered the bar and
it is creating problems. Finding ways to make
the news interesting is what will save CNN,
not opinion or commentary.Marketwatch has
some interesting things to say as well.CNN
needs a rock solid female journalist to
replace Campbell. I agree she was not the
best choice and CNN needs to get it right
this time. The problem is they have just
lost 3 female journalists and have not
bothered to replace them yet. Today CNN
announced that they will be airing docs
from Sanjay & Soledad airing during the week.
IMHO that is a good move. Great finally
Anderson s headed to the Gulf.

Anonymous said...

Right now, seeing the wildlife devastation and those poor pelicans that can't fly because their wings are oil soaked and the poor turtles that have come to shore with oil all over their shells, if Anderson Cooper we're standing infront of much as I admired him, for Katrina and Haiti, I'd slap him!
Where's their EXPOSURE that HE waited this long to "KEEP THEM HONEST?? Someone needs to remind him just why he's on 60 Minutes. It's because he exposed the truth about Katrina....well now it's too late for those poor innocent creatures! Shame on him and shame on CNN!!

Anonymous said...

CNN management is not very good at picking
likable,credible anchors .I think the female
journalists left CNN because of the way the
network treats women.Kyra is replaced by
Ali. Someone who is not a news anchor and
the way they treated Wolf for a show that
is absolutely ridiculous. The Sun points out
the reason why people watch CNN, it's the
news and CNN has made some recent decisions
in which you have anchors who can't get the
fact straight or are just plain awful.It matters
who you put in the anchor chair and it
had better be someone that viewers trust
to bring them the news.Campbell Brown's
show is really bad and if CNN goes with
any of the options in the TVN poll things
will get worse.As a viewer, I should not
have to ask why is this person anchoring
and having to turn the channel. The format
for several CNN shows is just plain awful.
They don't offer you a lot of news and
focus on very few stories for an entire
day.It is an absolute disgrace. People can
tell if the anchor has their act together.
CNN needs to give us real journalism.

Anonymous said...

How come CNN is not asking marine
biologists to make appearances. For
quite some time now the scientists
have been saying the oil would be
coming ashore. Basically saying no
matter what is done some of the oil
was going to make it in the marsh
land. I think CNN is not giving us the
full story yet again. Where are the details
of this plan? Most importantly nothing is
100 % foolproof. There are no easy
answers. Does anyone find it funny
that Mary Matlin happens to be on
the boat with Bobby Jindal. You're
telling me that there is no one else
on the boat that CNN could talk to.
Why does CNN feel the need for
pundits to be included in important
news stories. The national press has
not treated this as a national disaster.
Both Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer
were live yesterday but Brian Williams
was in the studio. Anderson Cooper
will be there starting today. The
national media is not doing it's job
yet again and needs to realize the
seriousness of the oil spill and dispatch
several crews along the Gulf to bring
us the news from the region. I tip my
hat to Reynolds Wolf,David Mattingly
and Rob Marciano, they have been there
from the start. Let's hear from them
and not Carville and Matllin.They are
not reporters they are pundits. Does
CNN even know the difference these
days. The national media is a disgrace
for not taking the news out of the
Gulf more seriously.

Anonymous said...

@8:55AM Fully agree. Couldn't have said it better.

Anonymous said...

CNN has the resources to provide us with all
access coverage of the Gulf oil spill.I want to
see the video from the Gulf and less studio
chat. Video matters a whole lot more in tv
news than chatter.CNN needs to show live
video of the the top kill as events unfold.
There are dozens of stories to be told from
the gulf. Hopefully CNN will get it's act
together and we will see them.

Anonymous said...

If i hear CNN use the phrase political disaster
one more time, I will scream.CNN just does
not get it. They think it is about politics, it is
not; it is about a natural disaster. It is really
just tasteless for CNN to dumb down a very
serious situation.

Anonymous said...

For the 1st time in a while a 360 worth
watching and recording on the dvr.360
needs to be there all week long. Great
reporting from Anderson Cooper and
all of the CNN people. Finally, a news
channel shows us the situation on the
ground. This is Anderson Cooper at
his best. The crisis in the Gulf has been
and ABC for far too long. I can't believe
both Katie and Diane were back in the
studio today. Please CNN don't make
the same mistake.

Anonymous said...

11:14PM: You are wrong. Please get your facts straight. ABC,CBS, were there first. AC just came now. Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams have BOTH GONE down and came back. Brian Williams has been down twice.
Cooper may be the only cable person there, but it took 5 WEEKS for him to get going.
I do agree it was the first 360 in a long while that was compelling.
AC will NOT stay the week. He has to be back in NYC for his live studio/audience and he's supposed host R&K on Friday. Can't let Kelly down.

Phebe said...

@anonymous 11:34, The Live with Regis and Kelly that will air on Friday is already taped. Anderson finished up his last segment before he left for the Gulf Coast this morning.

Anonymous said...

Reynolds Wolf was the first person to get to
the Gulf coast from the beginning. Nobody
said Anderson was there before the others.
Besides it is not a matter of who gets there
first it is the news coverage that I have a
problem with, it has not been as extensive
as it should be and I am critical of all of
the news organizations for a lapse in their
judgement.. Has there been an important
story than the country's worst oil spill ?