CNN’s New Programming Met With Resistance from Ad Buyers

"Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" CNN

CNN recently unveiled the slogan “go there,” but some ad-buying executives may not want to follow that command.

As CNN begins to hold upfront conversations, several ad buyers say the Time Warner-owned cable-news outlet is meeting with resistance. These buyers said CNN has historically been able to command high rates in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure also known as a CPM that is central to the annual upfront market, when U.S. networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. In 2014, buyers say they are pushing back against the network’s initial terms.

Skepticism from buyers – a natural element of this yearly haggle – comes after CNN has reworked its positioning . The network, part of Time Warner’’s Turner unit, is relying more heavily in primetime on documentary series and during the rest of the day seeking out stories that help it stand apart from competitors, as it did when it followed the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Doing so, however, has CNN veering slightly from the pitch it has long thrown to Madison Avenue: For years, CNN has portrayed itself as a high-quality source of straight news, one that ought to command a premium. And the network still inhabits that role. But with its ratings slipping over the long term, and a new emphasis being placed on what buyers view as “entertainment programming” for an hour of primetime, sponsors are pushing for a reworking of the relationship CNN has had with advertisers.

“I’m pretty confident they’ll have to make some adjustments in the market this year,” said one media-buying executive.

The seeming standoff comes as CNN has been under more scrutiny in the past year. While CNN remains a go-to venue when big breaking news takes place, the network has found keeping viewers riveted to its screen a tougher task as competing news outlets have staked out new turf. Fox News Channel regularly wins more viewers than CNN. MSNBC provides competition as well. In the past year, new entrants have tested the waters. Al Jazeera America, while not generating big viewership, has bountiful cash reserves and a hard-news focus. Fusion, a new network backed by ABC and Univision, is experimenting with ways to reach Hispanic and millennial viewers.

Given an expanding field of players, it’s little wonder ad buyers want to try to carve out more favorable terms with CNN. News audiences can be purchased more efficiently elsewhere, several buyers suggested, especially in digital-only venues, which have attracted more consumers seeking information about current events.

CNN has been making its case to potential sponsors. In a presentation made in April, the network unveiled nonfiction series featuring personalities like Mike Rowe, Lisa Ling and John Walsh.  Some of its documentaries like “The Sixties” and “Blackfish” have made a splash in popular culture and generated good ratings in the demographic coveted by advertisers in news programming, people between the ages of 25 and 54. In the case of “Blackfish,” the audience had one of the youngest median ages (40 years old) for a CNN primetime show in a decade, according to Nielsen.

And the network has been vocal about its efforts to move more breaking-news content to digital, mobile and social realms. In April, the network unveiled technology it called CNNx that will allow subscribers to watch 24 hours’ worth of news segments on demand via iPad and set-top box.

Ad buyers have chosen to focus on the price of reaching a CNN viewer. “Turner has sought a very high CPM, and the ratings are off” over the long term, said another ad-buying executive.

Turner is seeking CPM increases in line with the top of the market. NBC has held out for increases of 7% to 8% in the current market, according to people familiar with the situation.

CNN captured nearly $320 million in ad revenue in 2013, according to data from SNL Kagan, compared with $327.7 million in 2012 and $347.8 million in 2011.

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  1. Brian Doggett says:

    “A high quality source of straight news”…HA! Viewers are finally waking up to the bias! And I stress FINALLY!

  2. Kenny says:

    Forensic Files. Forensic Files. Forensic Files.

  3. DBinVA says:

    Oddly enough, more people turn to John Stewart for “news” than CNN.

  4. Eelo Fudpucker says:

    The article says that Fox beats CNN in ratings and MSNBC is also a competitor.
    The truth is Fox news consistently beat CNN and MSNBC combined in all time slots.

  5. Eelo Fudpucker says:

    To summarize,Your ratings suck so we aren’t going to keep paying the high rates

  6. Dell says:

    Stopped watching the neocon network some time ago. Want to cancel it from my cable basic package but provider won’t allow it. Hope that changes.

  7. commentarycat says:

    If they ran re-runs of I Love Lucy or Mattlock in the off hours (10pm – 5 am) or if they ran Infomercials like for the Slap-Chop or Magic Bullet Juicer; it would not surprise anyone if these selections surpassed the ratings of the ‘news’ programs.

  8. Jschmidt says:

    I don’t go any cable news station for news. You can’t get factual information. Weather channel dumbed down the weather and don’t get into any science. All the cable news show target people with flash and 60 sec sounds bytes because that is the limit of their attention span.

  9. lionfour says:

    “Entertainment Programming”? Watching CNN is as entertaining as someone running their fingernails down a blackboard!

  10. Will says:

    “CNN has portrayed itself as a high-quality source of straight news, one that ought to command a premium. And the network still inhabits that role.” LOL

  11. Happy John says:

    CNN has a terrible product, which is the reason they have problems selling advertising. Advertising rates are based on the number of viewers. Can’t figure out how MSNBC stays on the air other than being a loss for tax returns. At least CNN can claim they’re not the losers at NPR/PBS that has no product and can only survive with government handouts. Gee…that also describes the audience for NPR/PBS.

  12. reformedii says:

    Everybody tries to do something stupid!

    Can’t even see weather radar on The Weather Channel fr several hours during the night because they think they have to be the Discovery OR History Channel! And they all try to be Dave Garroway, Jack Paar OR Johnny Carson!!!

  13. dag says:

    I have to admit that my TV is never tuned to CNN for anything

  14. David says:

    Get a life homophobe

  15. David says:

    Says the likely Fox News watcher

  16. Tim says:

    Parts Unknown is the ONLY thing I watch religiously on CNN. I’ll still go there over Fox/MSNBC if there’s breaking new since both of those are just hack jobs but Bourdain’s show is super high quality.

  17. Phantom II says:

    “..high-quality, straight news”?? CNN??

  18. “While CNN remains a go-to venue when big breaking news takes place…”

    ROTFL… really? Ratings say otherwise… CNN is always #2 to Fox News, usually with less than half the audience!

  19. dji says:

    don’t foget fox. they are the worst

  20. dji says:

    nothing that CNN is working or is going to work. nobody cares about them documetary series will work for a select few kind. but mostly will go unnoticed. and day side stinks.

  21. Jackie says:

    Fire Jeff and get back to the news business!

  22. Ed Simmons says:

    If you have Dish or Direct TV Newsmax has just launched a news site. the Newsmax website is number one news site for elected Republicans and number three site for elected Democrats. They will give FOX a run for their money in a few years.

  23. Zach says:

    CNN began to decline after Bernard Shaw retired. His coverage of current events including the original Iraq crisis was riveting.

  24. Did Don Lemon /CNN ever find that black hole that swallowed the 757?

  25. Chris Long says:

    Anyone think Zucker cares more than a little ? He gets out rich via a Golden Parachute no matter what.

  26. cristo says:

    “Go there.”

    Wonder what that cost them?

  27. Joe_D says:

    Breaking News on CNN……………….. the Malaysian airplane is still missing. I am surprised that CNN has any viewers after they spent more than a month on wall to wall coverage of the missing plane when no new information was available.

    • Joe_D says:

      After making my snarky comment about CNN’s unending plane coverage I decided to go to their website to see if they even mentioned the plane story. I could not believe their freaking headline: “Look here for Flight 370”. There was also a side story stating: “100 Days of Little Progress”. It is no wonder that their ratings are in the toilet. With everything going on in the world CNN thinks the missing plane is still the most important story in the news. Too funny.

  28. GC says:

    “Fox News Channel regularly wins more viewers than CNN.” Uh, fox ALWAYS wins more viewers than CNN.

  29. Norbert G. Ginsel says:

    It’s like the unemployment numbers… dollars / thousand viewers, is a simple fraction. Reduce the number of viewers, and the cost per thousand goes up. CNN is being held to account for their failure to perform. With respect to unemployment, our government will not.

  30. Greg says:

    Anthony Bourdain’s show is the ONLY thing watchable on that train wreck of a network. If they can’t make money with him, they have some serious problems.

  31. TJG says:

    The CNN head stated that he would not be pressured to report the news, I’m surprised they can find ANY backers after that idiocy.

  32. JerkyM says:

    Actually, Al Jazeera is doing that job right now. I am suspect of AJ biases but they do a great job on hard news and staying in the middle.

  33. jbspryjbspry says:


    You’re right. The abandonment of cyclical, up-to-the-minute factual info in favor of extended dramatic programming is what ruined the Weather Channel as well. (Really miss that smooth jazz they used to play during “Local On The 8s” – it was perfect for hotel room morning coffee and packing…)

  34. Scott says:

    “For years, CNN has portrayed itself as a high-quality source of straight news, one that ought to command a premium. And the network still inhabits that role.” – Not even close. Who writes this stuff??

  35. bluesky says:

    What else do they have? I mean they won’t cover the news. Real news that is. If you’d go Infowars type
    news you’d corner the market. You’d have ratings coming out your ears.

  36. jbspryjbspry says:

    I recall watching the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tien An Men Square democracy demonstrations, live, nonstop, with only the sparest commentary on CNN. My thoughts at the time were “now THIS is how the news should be reported”.

    Those were the days…

  37. Jack says:

    I used to love CNN, now every time I tune in I’m watching Anthony Bourdain eat something.

  38. Slapshot says:

    Caught myself watching Al Jane era recently and was pleasantly surprised at their approach to the featured story, devoid of the usual cap I see on the other outlets. Will tune in again.

  39. Brigid says:

    They destroyed HLN with programming, remember the good old days of the 30 minutes cycle, the very thing you came to CNN for, top events-driven news. They were the go-to for hard international news, now they’ve dropped all pretense of journalism. The Piers Morgan debacle shows how out of touch they are with viewers, reflected in their crashed ratings. Hosts sound like kindergarten teachers. No substance whatsoever. They used to have heavyweights, twenty five years ago. I cannot believe they can sell any advertising, much less perform the function of the fourth estate.

  40. Mike Cloud says:

    Endless chatter, meaningless opinions and celebrity gossip. CNN ceased to be a real news channel during the O J Simpsontrial.

  41. YeahRight says:

    Kind of like saying “While Hanson remains a go-to icon for breaking pop culture news…”

  42. ImJustAGuy says:

    Entertaining article.

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