On the eve of CNN’s 32nd birthday on June 1, Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent admitted  that “we haven’t put the best shows on the air,” as one of the reasons that CNN’s ratings have recently sunk to levels not seen in more than 20 years.
Kent spoke to the Nomura U.S. Media & Telecom Summit on Thursday, where he addressed the problems at the once dominant cable news network.
CNN does pretty well ratings-wise when there are breaking news events, like turmoil in the Middle East or natural disasters at home or abroad. But without many of those types of news driven events in the last year, the network has had to depend on its own stable of shows to generate ratings, and for the most part, during that period, they have failed miserably.
But Kent tried putting a positive spin on the situation by saying that the current primetime lineup still has “very high potential.” He thinks that Anderson Cooper is a star, but that his ratings suffer from poor lead-ins.
That would seemingly place the blame on Erin Burnett and Piers Morgan, whose shows precede Cooper’s 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts. But Kent praised Burnett as “a great get for us,” and called Morgan a “tremendous interviewer,” meaning that CNN is going to stick with them despite their poor ratings.
Instead of primetime, Kent seems to be focused on the rest of the CNN lineup, including the recent hiring of ABC lifer John Berman to anchor the network’s “Early Start” program.
That is just a baby step, though, as it’s obvious that CNN is in dire need of a complete makeover, having watched as both Fox News and MSNBC have surpassed them in the cable news ratings race. CNN, the former cable news champ, has become more of an afterthought and largely irrelevant when it comes to viewers seeking news and information on a regular basis.
Kent said that it was an execution issue, TV 101. If that’s the case, he should quit tiptoeing around his current “stars” in primetime and execute, even if it means dumping the lineup wholesale if he wants the network to last another 32 years or more.