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If CNN’s Ratings “Don’t Matter,” Why Do Yours?


The entire category of cable news is suffering a ratings slide. So acknowledges Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.

But what’s his solution? How will he turn the cable news ratings situation around?

Well it turns out that’s asking the wrong question.

In fact, CNN’s response has been to add specialty shows which are decidedly not “cable news” per se – shows like Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, a new show from Mike Rowe, and custom-produced documentaries. That is, CNN is broadening the definition of what its category can be. And viewers are responding.

But the larger issue is a “mistake” that observers commonly make when, in Bewkes words, “they only focus on the television ratings.”

In the video embedded below Bewkes explains the gigantic lead CNN has in capturing the attention of audience via mobile devices and other digital platforms. He explains that the future of news is Internet-delivered, not TV-delivered. And THAT is CNN.

“Yeah, but you don’t make a lot of money off of mobile…” probed Bewkes’ interviewer, The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman.

“Yes we do,” Bewkes fired back. Because those platforms tie into the larger CNN brand – and the only way you can see CNN on mobile devices is because the cable operators pay an affiliate fee. “We don’t get the money from advertising, we get it from the affiliate fee,” says Bewkes.

In other words, CNN is less an ad-supported product and more a product supported by subscription – your subscription.

This is a topic Tom Asacker and I discussed at length in this episode of our podcast, Media Unplugged. You should check it out.

“Don’t miss the story – the economic future of news is digital, mobile, and subscription, not advertising,” said Bewkes.

Read that again…”The economic future of news is…not advertising.”

Something to think about when you see radio news stations flip formats in top ten markets. Is the problem the appetite? Or the business model?

This speaks to the larger trend of media companies reducing their overall dependence on ad revenue. In the radio space, this model is already well established – it’s as close as the closest NPR affiliate or Christian non-comm. And even there, I would argue, we’re in the early innings of a game begging to be better played.

As the battle for ad dollars expands to numerous new fronts and players, as one-time clients become publishers themselves, many large media companies are responding by expanding their business models, not by doubling down on ever-tighter ad budgets with ever-lower ratings points and ever-lower rates for ever-more-commoditized spots which attract ever-less attention in the marketplace, and so the downward spiral spirals downward.

At some point, Bewkes argues, it makes more sense to create great content that fans want to pay for. Content that can be monetized in new ways across new platforms.

Watch the short Q&A with Bewkes and see for yourself:

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