How to Fix CNN?
You simply must read Michael Calderone’s excellent CNN survey in Politico. It’s chock full of interesting ideas. It’s also chock full of some either not good or unrealistic ideas but that illustrates the problem: there’s no consensus on what to do.
I don’t like this being put in the terms of CNN must overhaul or it will die. I think it’s a false choice. It won’t die. The long term numbers bear this out in Total Day. Taking the numbers I cited last night from July 1997 and comparing them to last Quarter we see CNN, long term, Total Day may be either slowly rising or stagnating, but it’s not dying…
July 1997 Total Day – 408,000 P2+
2010 Q1 Total Day – 507,000 P2+
Primetime is another matter, long term it’s gone down in Total Viewers
July 1997 Primetime – 869,000 P2+
2010 Q1 Primetime – 656,000 P2+
I found the primetime numbers by looking at MSNBC’s release. I should have looked at this last night when writing up my piece on Jon Klein but I didn’t. Consequently I have to change my grade on Issue 4 from last night’s piece from “Incomplete” to “F” because of viewership erosion in primetime even though long term CNN has increased viewers in Total Day. Losing 200,000 average Total Viewers from 12 years ago is bad, no matter how you try to parse it.
I think Mediaite’s Rachel Sklar summed it up pretty well…
Prime-time, she noted, is only a “piece of the puzzle” with the demo — the prized age 25-54 demographic — even smaller.
“Stop for a moment and think about what CNN stands for. It feels pretty important right now,” Sklar said. “So, yes, tinker with the execution, by all means — that’s clearly broken, and there are ways to fix it. But the central mission matters, and I still truly believe there’s a market for it.”
Aaron Brown, now the Walter Cronkite professor of journalism at Arizona State University, makes the point that while CNN is taking heat for its prime-time ratings, the network is still a “highly profitable business” overall.
“What they do have to do is endure the fact that each month or week or year, there are going to be stories about how they get their asses kicked,” Brown said. “But as a business, they are doing just fine.”
The one thing I would add, which I touched on yesterday, is that CNN needs to stop with the PR ratings ad war that pits its primetime “news” programs against the competition’s “non-news” programs because it just continues to frame the debate in a way that hurts CNN long term. It’s one thing for the other guys to kick CNN for being down in the ratings, even though what the other guys are doing isn’t what CNN wants to do. CNN can’t control that. It’s another thing for CNN to hand them the boots to do so by piping up every time there’s a ratings spike that pushes them over a competitor’s particular hour, without putting the spike into context, which only serves to re-enforce the idea that they’re competing for the same viewers when they really aren’t.