CNN appears to be throwing in the towel, at least when it comes to being a cable news channel. With its ratings and reputation sinking, CNN announced Friday that the third-place network will be investing heavily in everything except serious news-gathering. This new focus will be towards “a variety of unscripted formats, including other travel shows, and ‘immersive’ nonfiction programs.” This also includes documentary films like “Blackfish.”
CNN still says that its “bread and butter” will always be breaking news. But it is in that arena that the network has been hit hardest. Once upon at time, even when Fox News dominated in the ratings, CNN would still come in first when big news broke. America was still turning to CNN when it mattered.
Today, Fox News not only dominates the everyday ratings but retains that domination during big news events, such as the Boston Marathon bombing and this week’s off-year elections. Moreover, during big news, CNN is now losing to low-rated MSNBC.
The writing on the wall is clear: CNN simply will not survive if it attempts to continue on as a cable news network. Years of left-wing bias have cost the network its “Most Trusted Name In News” status, as has a series of factual bungles during big news events. During the Trayvon Martin story, both of these liabilities came out in full force.
CNN’s desperation move to reinvent itself as something closer to the Discovery Channel is going to come at a huge price in the last remaining area CNN can boast about: profits. Despite its low ratings, CNN has always been hugely profitable. That is about to change. CNN is now in a position where it must go all in:
We are investing at CNN, part of a strategic decision to broaden it beyond politics and breaking news,” Time Warner C.E.O. Jeff Bewkes said on a call with investors. “These programming investments will put pressure on its margins, but will bring new advertisers to CNN.”
In fact Time Warner C.F.O. John Martin–who will take over Turner Broadcasting in January–cautioned investors that as a result of the investments, CNN may not see income growth for years.
“Financially, we don’t break out network by network, but I will tell you directionally, CNN’s operating income this year is down, and that is because of proactive decisions by [CNN president] Jeff Zucker and the new team there to try and invest in the programming in many, many dayparts,” Martin said. “Going forward, we will continue to evaluate what the right level of investment is for CNN. The expectation is going to be on a multi-year basis this thing is going to go back to growth.”
Other than “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and programming outside of the news arena (Anthony Bourdain, “Blackfish, etc.), CNN is a dying network loaded with unappealing anchors who are abysmal at delivering in-depth, objective news coverage.
Now CNN has been forced to risk it all to become something else.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC