Admitting his struggling network “needs new thinking,” CNN President Jim Walton announced Friday he will step down at the end of the year.
While CNN is headed toward record profits this year from its mobile and international operations, its showcase franchise in the U.S. has plummeted from domination to a distant third in the cable news race.
CNN’s U.S. ratings fell about 35% in the second quarter. It now trails not only runaway cable news leader Fox News, but MSNBC, whose prime-time shows of late have routinely been doubling the audience for CNN.
CNN also suffered a high-profile embarrassment last month when it inaccurately reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the new health law, then had to scramble to correct itself.
Walton’s departure signals an executive shakeup that mirrors the network’s on-air shakeup – which so far has not yielded the results the company hoped.
In prime-time, CNN tried and quickly dumped a talk show with former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer. It lost long-time institution Larry King and replaced him with Piers Morgan, then added an evening show with Anderson Cooper. It recently cancelled its 6 p.m. show with John King, extending Wolf Blitzer’s late-afternoon “Situation Room” to 7 p.m.
Blitzer’s 6 p.m. hour has been trailing MSNBC’s Al Sharpton in the ratings, however, and while Morgan’s show has done marginally better than the others, no CNN show in primetime or in the morning is close to its rivals on MSNBC or Fox News.
CNN, which invented the cable-news business and for a long time was its signature brand, has lost ground largely because of its decision to stick to its original mission of trying to provide straight nonpartisan news.
Fox News and MSNBC, at the same time, have been picking up viewers with evening shows that cater to conservative and progressive viewers. Walton defended CNN’s middle-of-the-road course, however, and said it will continue even after he leaves. “We know who we are and our corporate colleagues know who we are and there has always been great support internally that we’re going to be a news organization,” he said. “We want to report the news from multiple sides, all sides, and without bias.”
Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes praised Walton, saying he “took over an underperforming company in 2003 and tripled earnings. . . . Jim has been instrumental in growing the business into the financial powerhouse it has become, while establishing the brand as the worldwide leader for television news.”
Walton conceded, however, that it is “reasonable” for outsiders to focus on the health of domestic CNN.
Some numbers for possible chart?
SECOND QUARTER 2012 Total average primetime viewership:
Fox News – 1.79 million (down 1% from 2011) MSNBC – 690,000 (down 13% from 2011) CNN – 446,000 (down 35% from 2011)
MOST RECENT DAY, Wednesday, July 25, average primetime viewership:
Fox News – 2,193,000 MSNBC – 1,002,000 CNN – 520,000
Source: The NY Daily News