“There will be changes.”
It was broadcast upfront week, and amid the chaos and the talk of CBS’s schedule and the fate of “30 Rock,” the discussion had shifted to CNN. A media buyer for one of the top firms told me that in a conversation with a senior executive at Time Warner, there was an expectation that CNN would be tweaking its programming, an effort to combat ratings fatigue.
In a terse statement earlier this month, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said that he and others at the company were “clearly not satisfied” with CNN’s situation, and promised that action would be taken to rectify it.
That situation–at least in the primetime ratings–is grim. Last week the channel had its lowest weekly primetime in total viewers in at least 20 years, and it did not do much better in the adults 25-54 demo that cable news actually sells against. May sweeps and the NBA playoffs probably had something to do with that, but sweeps aren’t enough to explain a 20-year low. Unless an unexpected news event happens, it will likely end up being another rough month for CNN ratings-wise when the final numbers come in next Tuesday.
“Obviously this is an indictment of their lineup, it is not working,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media.
Adgate, who used to work in the research department at CNN and Turner, says that for a political year ratings across cable news have been relatively flat. CNN saw ratings boosts earlier this year, when there were debates and primaries, but since then things have quieted down. TV viewers that are interested in the day-to-day political scuffles are almost by definition going to be partisan, and there are cable news channels tailored just for them.
“It was the first news network, it does have a great reputation and a great global brand name for the casual news viewer, but those aren’t the people who are going to watch debt news on a regular basis,” Adgate says. “The news is still the star at CNN and it isn’t necessarily the star at other cable news networks.”