Admitting his struggling network “needs new thinking,” CNN President Jim WaltonÂ announced Friday he will step down at the end of the year.
While CNN isÂ headed toward record profits this year from its mobile and internationalÂ operations, its showcase franchise in the U.S. has plummeted from domination toÂ a distant third in the cable news race.
CNN’s U.S. ratings fell aboutÂ 35% in the second quarter. It now trails not only runaway cable news leader FoxÂ News, but MSNBC, whose prime-time shows of late have routinely been doubling theÂ audience for CNN.
CNN also suffered a high-profile embarrassment lastÂ month when it inaccurately reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck downÂ the new health law, then had to scramble to correct itself.
Walton’sÂ departure signals an executive shakeup that mirrors the network’s on-air shakeup — which so far has not yielded the results the company hoped.
InÂ prime-time, CNN tried and quickly dumped a talk show with former New York Gov.Â Elliot Spitzer. It lost long-time institution Larry King and replaced him withÂ Piers Morgan, then added an evening show with Anderson Cooper. ItÂ recently cancelled its 6 p.m. show with John King, extending Wolf Blitzer’sÂ late-afternoon “Situation Room” to 7 p.m.
Blitzer’s 6 p.m. hour has beenÂ trailing MSNBC’s Al Sharpton in the ratings, however, and while Morgan’s showÂ has done marginally better than the others, no CNN show in primetime or in theÂ morning is close to its rivals on MSNBC or Fox News.
CNN, which inventedÂ the cable-news business and for a long time was its signature brand, has lostÂ ground largely because of its decision to stick to its original mission ofÂ trying to provide straight nonpartisan news.
Fox News and MSNBC, at theÂ same time, have been picking up viewers with evening shows that cater toÂ conservative and progressive viewers. Walton defended CNN’sÂ middle-of-the-road course, however, and said it will continue even after heÂ leaves. “We know who we are and our corporate colleagues know who we areÂ and there has always been great support internally that we’re going to be a newsÂ organization,” he said. “We want to report the news from multiple sides, allÂ sides, and without bias.”
Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff BewkesÂ praised Walton, saying he “took over an underperforming company in 2003 andÂ tripled earnings. . . . Jim has been instrumental in growing the business intoÂ the financial powerhouse it has become, while establishing the brand as theÂ worldwide leader for television news.”
Walton conceded, however, that itÂ is “reasonable” for outsiders to focus on the health of domestic CNN.
Some numbers for possible chart?
SECOND QUARTERÂ 2012 Total average primetime viewership:
Fox News — 1.79Â million (down 1% from 2011) MSNBC — 690,000 (down 13% from 2011) CNN — 446,000 (down 35% from 2011)
MOST RECENT DAY, Wednesday,Â July 25, average primetime viewership:
Fox News — 2,193,000 MSNBC — 1,002,000 CNN — 520,000
Source: The NY Daily News