CNN's Larry King Problem

A network in search of a brand

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CNN is in trouble. Its prime-time news programs are getting killed by Fox News and MSNBC. Larry King Live in particular has lost half its audience since President Obama was elected. With that in mind, The New York Times' Brian Stelter took a closer look at King and how his abysmal ratings are indicative of problems at the network at large.

What he found was a 76-year-old host whose contract expires next June but shows no signs of going anywhere. Stelter says King's scheduling of celebrities and political figures has no unifying theme. "This week Mr. King covered Lindsay Lohan's court case one night and the gulf oil spill the next, so viewers do not know what to expect," he writes. On top of that, viewers are increasingly hungry for more partisan coverage. The article inspired more theorizing about how to save CNN:

  • The Network Has an Identity Crisis, writes Steve Krakauer at Mediaite: "What jumped out the most was a quote from Tom Dougherty that only loosely referred to King personally, and more broadly about CNN as a whole. It essentially asks: Who are you, CNN? It's fair to believe that we're weeks away from getting the first peek at what that is. As Jon Klein and other execs are tasked with replacing Campbell Brown, who was granted release from her contract last week, the decision about what to put at 8pmET will be a good first indicator of who CNN 'is for' and who 'they are not for.'"
  • Objectivity Isn't the Problem--Intelligence Is! cries Max Read at Gawker: "CNN has spent the last decade hiring obnoxious, self-important idiots like Rick Sanchez as news personalities. It's given the barely-competent Wolf Blitzer charge of the worst show on television, The Room of Situations, a two-hour variety program whose main attraction is the opportunity it provides to see what it would be like if a child were allowed to anchor the news. In the latest in a string of bizarre hiring decisions, Erick Erickson, of the blog RedState, has been hired as part of CNN's 'political team,' where he will provide absolutely nothing of substance, and be unfunny to boot."
  • CNN's Still Making Boatloads of Money, points out Kenneth Li in The Financial Times: "CNN aims to deliver its most profitable year in its 30-year history in 2010 even as the network that invented the 24-hour television news business suffers its worst US ratings in memory... Bright spots include a surge in digital revenue, strength in international advertising and stability in the subscription fees it receives from cable, satellite and phone distributors. Some 80 per cent of its advertising sales come from so-called cross-platform packages that bundle more than one property.That had helped CNN deliver 10-plus per cent profit growth annually over the past six years, during a period when profits had trebled."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.