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The Future for Larry King and CNN

king_5-27.jpgThe NYTimes’ Brian Stelter profiles the current state of affairs at 9pm on CNN. 76-year-old Larry King, who celebrates his 25th anniversary at the network this year, has long been one of CNN’s iconic talents, but some have been wondering what will happen next for the celebrity interviewer:

CNN executives will not say whether they will renew Mr. King’s contract when it ends next year. There is a growing feeling at the company that a succession plan should be put in place, but there is no evidence that CNN is actually preparing such a plan…and there has long been speculation that the “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric could slide into his chair. Her contract is up in May 2011, and she sees CNN’s 9 p.m. time slot as a possible new job, according to four of her friends and colleagues.

Neither King nor top executives would comment for the story, though CNN/US president Jon Klein did give a statement through a spokesperson. In an interview earlier this month, Dan Rather criticized Klein and CNN execs for not standing up for King publicly.

(More: It seems, the NYT article struck a chord at CNN. An insider tells us, “It’s a tragic statement about the New York Times’ media beat that they ignore digital audiences. It’s not just shoddy reporting, it speaks directly to how ancient their view of the world is. Their business is crumbling while CNN worldwide is hitting record profits. They just don’t get it.”)

In Stelter’s piece, King’s timeslot become a case-study for the whole network, which one branding expert described to The Times as having identity problems…

“When we pick a brand, what we’re really doing is picking an element of ourselves that reinforces who we are,” said Tom Dougherty, the president of the branding agency Stealing Share, who says CNN’s brand is in a “quagmire.” “Until they decide who they’re for — which is an amazingly difficult thing to do, and includes deciding who they are not for — they will flounder.”

The timing comes just as CNN’s finances are seeing renewed attention. Financial Times’ Kenneth Li writes how Turner Broadcasting will reveal new financial information about CNN today “to counter speculation over the network’s decline”:

The presentation on Thursday is part of Time Warner’s annual get-together with Wall Street analysts and investors. They worry that CNN’s 42 percent decline in evening primetime ratings since the beginning of the year will deliver a grave blow to earnings.

In recent months, CNN has regularly made the case that primetime ratings are only one segment of the business for a large media organization. Executives today were expected to highlight the fact that “[CNN] ended 2009 with about $500m in operating profit for the year, its highest in its history.”

“Clearly there’s frustration over ratings in the US,” CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton said, but he added, “We’re experiencing record growth.”

TVNewser will have more on the presentation later today.

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