CNN’s One Big Advantage As Jeff Zucker Takes Over

By Alex Weprin 

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The Washington Post‘s Paul Farhi pens a long piece on the state of CNN, now that Jeff Zucker has had a few months in charge. While CNN has had significant ratings troubles, and Farhi talks to an analyst who says the channel has been losing revenue, there is still one area where CNN has an edge over competitors Fox News and MSNBC:

CNN still captures a premium from advertisers relative to competitors. Baine estimates that sponsors pay $5.96 to reach a thousand viewers on CNN, compared with $5.02 for a thousand on Fox and $4.19 on MSNBC.

Why? “It’s a safer place to be” for advertisers, says Gabriel Kahn, co-director of the media economics and entre­pre­neur­ship program at USC’s Annenberg journalism school. “It can be a more boring place to be a viewer, but for an advertiser, you’re not going to hear: ‘Obama was born in Indonesia. Let’s go to a commercial!’ ”

It is worth noting that the figure has tightened over the last few years, with FNC and MSNBC rising at CNN’s expense. Still, for Zucker, he has to try and raise the ratings without scaring away big brand advertisers, who may be jittery about advertising on MSNBC or FNC for fear of alienating core buying groups. Farhi also talks to Zucker’s former colleague, MSNBC president Phil Griffin:

“I wouldn’t read anything into his first two months,” says Phil Griffin, the president of rival MSNBC. “This is going to take years. They’ve got to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The idea that you can figure it out by April 1st is crazy. Check back on April 1st, 2014, and you’ll know the direction…”

In perhaps a veiled message to his old boss, Griffin offers a sports analogy: “When a team buys stars, you never know if the chemistry is right for the team or the fans. When you grow [from within], you know the chemistry is right.”