Jon Klein Exits President Post at CNN

In the midst of a wholesale reworking of CNN’s prime time schedule, even greater changes are taking place in the executive suite, as Jon Klein is leaving the news network after a six-year stint as president.

Stepping in for Klein is Ken Jautz, president of CNN sibling net Headline News.  Effective immediately, Jautz assumes the title of executive vp of CNN/U.S.

Scot Safon, who currently serves as chief marketing officer for CNN’s global brands, will take on Jautz’ post as head of Headline News.

CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton broke the news to staffers in a company-wide memo issued Friday morning. He did not provide a rationale for Klein’s departure, other than to say, “Our colleague Jon Klein is leaving CNN.”

Walton went on to praise Klein for his “important contributions to the CNN story,” adding that the newsman “leaves with our respect and friendship, and with my sincere thanks.”

Klein also reached out to CNN employees this morning, crediting the news gatherers for the network’s fiscal and editorial success.

“The CNN I’m leaving today is demonstrably stronger than the one I inherited almost six years ago,” Klein said in a memo to staff. “That is a tribute to your passion for telling stories that matter, your talent for uncovering the truth without layering on destructive bluster or partisan spin, and your willingness to indulge my appetite for innovation and change.”

Klein leaves CNN as it enters a busy and uncertain autumn. In addition to the resources the network will devote to November’s mid-term elections, it is also in the midst of a comprehensive restructuring of its prime time lineup. In October, Parker/Spitzer bows in the 8 p.m. time slot, while Larry King will hang up his suspenders on Dec. 16. The 20-year-old 9 p.m. program Larry King Live will be replaced by an as-yet untitled show hosted by English TV personality (and former print journalist) Piers Morgan.

Walton assured staffers that Jautz and Safon are well-equipped to steer their respective networks as both head off into the turbulence of November. “My expectation is that our leaders and our new operating discipline will put CNN’s advantages to work where they matter most: for our audience,” Walton said. “Our coverage will be relevant and resonant; will have meaning for millions of people around the world; and it will reflect the qualities that CNN is rightfully famous for: commitment to truth, respect for facts, service to no political agenda and passion for journalism and analysis done right and well.”

In addition to keeping CNN’s viewers informed, Jautz will be charged with the task of scaring up a much greater nightly audience. The network has been in ratings freefall for years, and lately the deliveries have been cut nearly in half. Per Nielsen, CNN this summer lost 45 percent of its prime time audience, averaging just 542,000 viewers per night. Declines among the core news demo were proportionately severe; CNN lost 45 percent of its adults 25-54 audience, with an average delivery of 165,000.

Last year, CNN saw its prime time deliveries plummet 30 percent, with an average draw of 903,000 viewers. By comparison, Fox News Channel closed out the year up 7 percent in prime, finishing fourth among all ad-supported cable nets with 2.2 million viewers. Among the demo, CNN was down 42 percent versus the presidential election year 2008, while Fox News grew 10 percent year-over-year with 545,000 adults 25-54.

Last year also marked the first year MSNBC beat CNN in the demo.

Despite the swooning ratings, CNN remains one of TV’s most reliable moneymakers. In 2009, CNN and Headline News generated $1.18 billion in total revenue, per SNL Kagan, a take that included $496.1 million in net ad sales revenue. FNC edged its rival with $1.21 billion in revenue, with ad sales accounting for nearly half ($593 million) of that figure

According to Kagan estimates, CNN’s average CPM os about a third higher than FNC’s ($5.81 to $3.97, per 2008 data).