Fast Chat: CNN President Ken Jautz

The head of network's U.S. operation talks about his primetime strategy

Since taking over as president of U.S. operations at CNN last September, Ken Jautz has been struggling to jazz-up what had become a snoozing network—at least by the clamorous standards of the cable news universe—with high-profile hires like Erin Burnett, poached from CNBC in April to fill a 7 o’clock slot.

But he’s also put together a primetime lineup that, with Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan as its pillars, still consists of as many reruns as original shows. Adweek caught up with Jautz by phone to discuss his vision for the network, and the thinking that went in to CNN’s primetime slate.

Adweek: So what’s the plan for primetime?


Ken Jautz: I’d say that CNN is evolving from an organization that has always been great at covering breaking news to one that is more focused on distinctive and engaging new programs. As well as it’s expertise on breaking news. One of the principal ways we’re moving towards that goal is creating a lineup that has an overall cohesive identity—a series of shows based on quality journalism and reporting, but in which each show is distinctive and different from one another, has its own personality.

What defines the new lineup?

I’d say these shows have commonalities and differences. If you look at the overall lineup from late afternoon: it’s Wolf Blitzer followed by John King, to Erin Burnett, then Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan. They’re not shows that simply rely on He Said, She Said reporting, but they provide a lot of analysis, they provide interviews, they increasingly provide a take or insight into stories. They’re all aggressive reporters, and they all have insights that are not based on ideology. They’re based on their reporting, their experiences.

But there are differences because among them—we want to create distinctive, differentiated shows. And these are people who have different approaches and areas of expertise and different orientations.  John king and Wolf Blitzer are politically oriented… and that’s reflected in their shows. Erin Burnett ha a business expertise. Then you have Anderson Cooper, who’s putting his personal stamp on stories with his expertise in the field, his focus on international news and travel. And then you’ve got Piers, who’s more focused on culture and entertainment. So these are a series of shows that have commonalities, but they’re also very distinctive from one another.

But your primetime slate features re-airs very prominently [for example, under the new lineup, Anderson Cooper 360 airs at 8 and again at 10]. Do you have plans to change that? It seems like an unusual primetime lineup.

I’m going to dispute the premise on several different fronts, actually. But before I do that, let me say that it is a lineup that we look forward to building. We’ll build it and attract a greater and greater following. That’s one.

Two, I would say that Anderson Cooper has long been at ten as a flagship show … in this day and age, the program that a news channel runs at 8 PM basically showcases what the network stands for. And you look at Anderson Cooper; it is quality journalism, reporting-based program. And you compare that to a more conversational talk show on offer at competitive news networks at 8 o’clock, you see a real difference. It makes sense for us to put it on at 8 o’clock. It also makes sense for us to continue Anderson Cooper—he’s been at 10 for many years he has a loyal following at 10 o’clock. Lastly, another reason I dispute the premise is, it suggests that [having re-airs in primetime] is unusual. I would say that it isn't.

So this lineup is part of a clear strategy.

It’s a clear strategy. It’s not a holding pattern. It’s a focus on experienced journalists and on journalism. Also,  [the 10 O’clock re-air of Anderson Cooper] has live elements as well. So what runs at 10 O’clock is not exact same thing that runs at 8 O’clock.

How is the strategy different from, say, MSNBC’s?

[At MSNBC] it’s ‘if you like ideology X at 8, Mr. or Ms. host at 9 is still ideology x, and it’s going to flow.’

I’m saying the same thing. But instead of ‘ideology,’ put in ‘quality journalism.’ But going back to your previous point: You used Piers and Anderson as examples. Piers came on in January and since that time, both Piers and Anderson’s shows are way up in ratings. It’s not like one is up and one is down.

Do you see opinion having a place at CNN?

Absolutely. The more, the better. I always say we don’t shy away from opinion, we provide more opinion than anyone else. But our opinion is not ideological. It’s not coming from one end of the political spectrum or the other. It is inclusive. It provides the viewer with all different points of view under discussion, so the viewer can make up their own mind on it.

It sounds as though you admit that, what people want in primetime, is personality and perspective.

I’ll say yes. In this day-and-age, people who are watching a news channel in primetime probably know the straightforward facts. Facts are easier to get than they ever were. By the time they get to primetime, you need to provide something of added value to them… analysis, opinion, inclusive opinion, a take on a story.

Anderson Cooper is branching off into daytime TV with a new talk show. How do you feel about that?

We’re supportive. We’re also, to some extent, working in conjunction—in that his new show is produced in this building, using one of the CNN control rooms. We’re actively supportive of the show. He is very broad in his interests and experiences and that only helps him make his CNN show better, frankly.

So you do not think there is going to be an affect on his core audience, who view him as a newsman?

I think it’s a positive thing. The broader the show, the better, the broader the talent in showcasing his or her ability to converse intelligently on a wide range of subjects, the better.

Now I tell you, before the syndicated show, we were doing similar things with AC360. One of the first things I did in this job is I put Charlie Moore in as Anderson Cooper’s wxecutive producer. We worked with Charlie to reformat the show to make it broader and bring in many elements that showcase Anderson’s interests and insights. And one of those is, we have the Keeping Them Honest segment, which was inconsistent and buried in the show. We put it at the forefront of the show. We introduced The RidicuList, which is lighter, more cultural. So, not only do I think that’s better for him and for the viewer, I think we have brought elements of that into [his CNN] show over the last nine months.

It’s a lot for one person to take on. Is his time management on your radar?

Yes. Anderson is a hard-worker…. We’ve been supportive from the beginning and we’re very aware of it. We don’t foresee problems.

Would you consider putting on a political opinion show of the sort that’s so popular on cable news outlets?

If the question is ‘Would we put on a partisan opinionated show?’ The answer is no. Would we put on a political show in which various points of view are discussed? Yes.

What is the distinction there?

We’re not ideological. That’s the difference….

There are critics in the CNN diaspora who have said that CNN has given up on primetime.

That’s ridiculous. I would point out that Piers Morgan is fifty percent higher than the show we had on in that slot. Anderson Cooper is the highest rated show [on the network]. Why wouldn’t I put it on in the hour that’s emblematic? Why wouldn’t I create a lineup that provides for better flow from show to show?