Skip to comments.CNN Head Shrugs Off Fox News Ratings Rivalry (CNN Admits Defeat)
Posted on 07/10/2003 8:20:54 PM PDT by Dont Mention the War
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As CNN reshuffles its anchor lineup, the head of the network said on Thursday he cares more about reclaiming CNN's hard-news roots than in regaining ratings supremacy from archrival Fox News Channel.
"I don't get caught up in that," newly installed CNN president Jim Walton said during the cable network's presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
Walton said his chief goal was to gradually build on CNN's own performance as the network seeks to renew itself as the "best ... electronic news organization in the world."
He reiterated CNN's renewed emphasis on presenting straight news while steering away from commentary and the kind of tabloid-style show previously hosted by Connie Chung. Walton pulled the plug on Chung's program after replacing Walter Isaacson as head of the network.
"We might have more tabloid, more sensation more opinion in what we do and our ratings might jump up, but that would hurt the value of what we do," he said.
Walton quickly added that he did not mean to suggest that Fox News was trading on sensationalism. But he seemed to be alluding to Fox in offering a wristwatch analogy to downplay the significance of CNN's No. 2 standing in U.S. cable news ratings. "I really don't think Rolex cares how many watches Timex sells," he said.
Fox News again led all cable news outlets in the second quarter of 2003, with more than half of all prime-time viewership, according to newly released figures from Nielsen Media Research.
Still, Walton insisted that CNN, a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc., was more profitable, saying, "We make more per 30-second commercial than any of our competitors, by far." He declined to offer figures.
Fox News officials disputed Walton's assertion, saying the News Corp Ltd.-owned network outsold CNN by at least $30 million in the recent "upfront" advertising market.
While CNN may earn more revenue on a per-subscriber basis, or when lumping together its own ad revenues with those from CNN Headline News and over-the-air local news feeds, Fox News brings in more money on a straight network-to-network comparison, said Roger Domal, Fox News' national sales director.
Walton was joined by four members of CNN's new anchor team -- Paula Zahn, Anderson Cooper, Bill Hemmer and former NBC News weekend anchor Soledad O'Brien, who debuted this week as co-host with Hemmer on CNN"s "American Morning."
Zahn recently has moved from her morning roost to prime time as host of a new 8 p.m. program following Cooper's new show at 7 p.m. They are being preceded by Lou Dobbs at 6 p.m. and followed by Larry King and Aaron Brown.
Walton shed little light on how the four evening news anchors will distinguish themselves, but suggested the right mix of news and personality would be key factors in winning viewers. He said Cooper would anchor a "a fast-paced, high-story-count" program with "a very broad range" of topics, while Zahn would host "more of an issues show."
Walton was adamant about one stylistic feature of CNN -- saying that while he "hates" the news ticker that crawls along the bottom of CNN's screen, it would remain because market research shows viewers overwhelmingly like it.
No matter how Walton tries to spin it, the truth of the matter is obvious: CNN management knows it doesn't have the brainpower in its newsrooms to create better shows than Fox, so they're going to stop trying. Instead, they're going to simply claim to be more elitist: "I really don't think Rolex cares how many watches Timex sells," he said.
Well, that trick won't work either, Jimmy Boy. First of all, Rolex DOES care how many watches Timex sells, because if Timex gets its $20 watch on someone's wrist, that's still one less wrist to sell to. Second, Rolex makes a product WORTH paying more for; CNN creates a free product that is sinking precisely because its quality has fallen through the floor, and talking up its alleged quality will not make said quality magically reappear. And third, The dirty little secret of cable news is that the truly rich viewers, those that make >$150K, have always preferred MSNBC, of all places. The true Rolex owners are ignoring CNN too.
Also, this is the serious nut graph:
While CNN may earn more revenue on a per-subscriber basis, or when lumping together its own ad revenues with those from CNN Headline News and over-the-air local news feeds, Fox News brings in more money on a straight network-to-network comparison, said Roger Domal, Fox News' national sales director.The only reason CNN earns more on a per-subscriber basis is because Fox launched before digital cable came along, back in the days where the common wisdom was that "there's no more room for any new channels." So the only way Rupert Murdoch was able to get carriage was to pay the cable companies to carry FNC, when usually the cable companies have to pay the networks. Now that Fox is the #1 news channel and the #2 cable network period, those "we pay you" deals are not going to be renewed. When those contracts are up, the local cable companies are going to have to start paying through the nose to carry FNC, and they won't have any choice but to pay(imagine the firestorm if they tried to drop the one conservative channel and alienate 50% of their subscribers!). At that point, FNC will be far more profitable than CNN across the board, and will finally be able to invest like hell in a bigger newsroom, more staffers, more bureaus, perhaps an FNC International ... they will really be able to run CNN into the ground permanently.
If I recall correctly, those FNC contracts with cable companies around the nation start expiring in 2006 (yup, Rupert had to make ten-year deals to get them to make room for Fox News at all). That gives CNN to get their act together ... and instead they're only trending further downward.
Ha ha ha!
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So CNN considers itself a "serious news" operation.
Were they into these acclaimed serious decisions when they kowtowed to Saddam so they could get air time? When they allowed murders to go unreported so they could curry favor with Saddam? When they allowed a positive image of life in Iraq to be broadcast worldwide so they could curry favor with Saddam?
And all of this admitted to by the head of their own network.
Should Timex care how expensive Rolex claims to be when Timex discovers that Rolex secretly gets their parts from the garbage dump.
Please FReepmail me if you want on or off my infrequent FoxFan list.
Now the Clueless News Network.
Keep it up, Walton, and you'll be passed by a revived MSNBC.