CNN’s Prime Time Woes: “Klein’s Got to Make it Sexy”

By Chris Ariens 

The April cable ratings month ended last night, and later today we’ll get the final numbers for Friday which will determine whether CNN will finish fourth in prime time (8-11pm) in the ad-friendly A25-54 demo. But it’s looking that way.

The NYTimes’ Bill Carter sets the table for the news in today’s paper.

“All of a sudden it seems a little unfashionable to be in the middle,” an unnamed CNN correspondent tells Carter, “It’s not sexy to be in the middle. Klein’s got to make it sexy.”

But don’t expect CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein to bring sexy back anytime soon.

Klein said that he would not consider moving HLN’s biggest star, Nancy Grace, who now often beats [MSNBC’s Keith] Olbermann, to CNN. “You start to undermine your news brand by infusing it with bias,” Mr. Klein said. “We would do ourselves a disservice if we thought that our main competitors were the other so-called cable news networks. They don’t have journalists on in prime time.”

Carter also talks with MSNBC president Phil Griffin about CNN: “These people who watch these channels are news junkies. They’ve already had access to the headlines all day long on the Internet. In prime time you’ve got to stand out and make a splash.”

Griffin points to a consistently inconsistent message from CNN – when prime time is good – like election night and inauguration night – CNN has problem stating how well it does. But can also dismiss that prime time only accounts for 10% of annual profit (“still the biggest individual chunk of CNN’s cash flow,” Carter notes). Then there’s CNN’s cume argument – that it reaches a total of about 74 million viewers a month, as opposed to about 61 million for Fox News and about 56 million for MSNBC.

“They’re trying to play games,” Griffin said. “They’re not living up to the brand.”