Why CNN’s Walton is Having “So Much Fun”

By Chris Ariens 

TVNewser has obtained the end-of-year note from CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton. Walton took a page from his 2006 letter in which he wrote, “Next year will be fun.”

In the 2007 letter, Walton talks up CNN’s 2007 growth, including Headline News’ “record year in ratings.” And “CNN Digital Network’s total usage minutes” surpassing “even Wikipedia with over 1 billion usage minutes per month to place it Number 1.”

Walton also writes about the business landscape. “When others were messaging cutbacks and downsizing,” Walton writes “the CNN story was investment where it counts-in global newsgathering, technology and people.”

I take issue with one statement. Walton writes, “The others (FNC & MSNBC) having virtually abandoned long-form serious documentary programming.” MSNBC & Fox News are both in the documentary game, and while CNN may not find “Predator” or “LockUp” serious, last night MSNBC aired an hour-long investigation into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvenenko.

Click continued to read the note…

December 18, 2007

To: CNN Colleagues
From: Jim Walton

Thinking about what I would say to sum up the year now drawing to a close, I went back to my 2006 end-of-year letter to see what predictions I made then for 2007, and whether they came to pass. What jumped out was this gem of understatement: “Next year will be fun.”

“Fun” doesn’t begin to cover it.

While traditional news organizations grappled with competition from new platforms, rising costs and diminishing audiences, CNN delivered spectacularly on its promise to serve “more news to more people in more places on more platforms than any other news organization in the world.” At CNN/U.S., “more” meant 10 million viewers each month over its closest competitor. At Headline News it was a record year in ratings and both CNN International and CNNE enjoyed a record profit year. And the CNN Digital Network’s total usage minutes surpassed even Wikipedia with over 1 billion usage minutes per month to place it Number 1. That was fun.

With most news organizations resigned to no or slow growth, CNN will end 2007 with record revenue and year-over-year double-digit profit growth for the fourth consecutive year-extraordinary for a mature business. In fact, we have more than doubled our profits over this four year period. Fun!

When others were messaging cutbacks and downsizing, the CNN story was investment where it counts—in global newsgathering, technology and people. Also fun.

In a business environment in which most of the other major players seemed to be focused on holding their ground, CNN was focused on innovating, partnering with YouTube to bring a political tradition into the Digital Age and present the most-watched primary debate in history; enhancing the #1 news and information site on the Web to make it even more compelling and essential; giving user-generated content, structure and a global platform; and broadcasting our news coverage in high-definition. More fun.

The others having virtually abandoned long-form serious documentary programming, CNN aired two landmark multi-part specials this year—God’s Warriors and Planet in Peril—that challenged audiences and reflected the commitment, scope and power of CNN’s journalism.

We saw our work recognized with Emmys and Murrow Awards, and by Cable Positive, NAMIC and the NABJ. Gratifying. And fun.

And we used our global resources and the authority and integrity of the CNN brand to develop two important franchises to support worthy philanthropy — CNN Heroes and Impact Your World — both of which were inspired by civility, service and ordinary greatness. Honoring real-life heroes was humbling, moving and so much fun.

But comparing CNN to other news organizations is not entirely fair. In many ways, we are one of one. No one else has our size and scale across multiple delivery platforms, our growth story or our perennial competitive advantage: our people. Together, they made 2007 a spectacular year.

In 2008, let’s continue to do work we can all be proud of. Let’s continue to be innovative and strategic. Let’s be smart, responsible business people. Let’s treat each other with kindness and respect. And let’s have even more fun.

My best wishes to you and your family this holiday season, and my sincere gratitude for all you do for CNN all year long.