If I were the CEO of CNN… (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in traffic so I flipped on NPR. As it was the 6 o’clock hour, Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal was on. To my delight, they were talking about the impending shift at CNN. That is, earlier this summer, the current CEO of CNN announced that he’d be stepping down at the end of the year. Recently, CNN announced that Jeff Zucker would be replacing Walton as the President of the company.

Anyway, on the Marketplace broadcast, Ryssdal was speaking with someone who argued that CNN was going to redefine itself:

But that may be tougher than it sounds. With Fox News cornering the political right, and MSNBC owning the political left, the question is, says Sherman, “How do you define yourself, if not by politics?”

Indeed. Fox News is most certainly known as the network that favors the opinion of political conservatives and MSNBC certainly seems to favor the opinion of political liberals. In today’s cable TV marketplace, that certainly leaves little room for CNN. It would be silly of CNN to try to compete with MSNBC in its market (liberals) and it would be foolish of CNN to try to compete with Fox News in its market (conservatives).

Since I just finished up a course on strategy, I thought I’d use some of the tools I learned about to analyze CNN’s current situation. Keeping in mind that this is meant to be a cursory or 30,000-foot view, as I didn’t do a great deal of research, (which is what would need to be done to have a thorough analysis).

The first thing that comes to mind is one of CNN’s resources: international journalists. I remember hearing at one point that this was one of CNN’s distinct advantages (over MSNBC and Fox News): they have a number of journalists worldwide, whereas the other two networks don’t. This allows them to compete in other markets than the US and probably helps lead to CNN’s extensive name recognition worldwide (over MSNBC and Fox News). This is certainly a resource that CNN should try to incorporate into their strategy moving forward.

Though, I have also read that while this is a key resource for CNN, it doesn’t necessarily help them with the US market. Why? While Americans know that it’s good for them to know what’s going on in the world, a great deal of the population doesn’t care. Since the US is the most coveted market, CNN’s going to have to do something to try to pull away viewers from Fox News and MSNBC — or attract new viewers.

After reading about some of the things that Zucker has said, it certainly seems like he doesn’t want to continue to compete just with MSNBC and CNN. It seems like Zucker might also consider other cable networks like Bravo and TLC competitors of CNN.

I tend to agree with some of the critics who think that CNN should return to the kind of programming that made it successful: “hard-hitting investigate reporting.”

But more than that, I think there’s a real opportunity for CNN to create a new market or at least add-value to a different market: fact-checking. As can be seen from Google trends, searches for fact-checking really seem to peak around the time of a presidential election. My thought: CNN could try to capitalize on this by creating programming (not just around election season, but all the time) where they fact-check other news organizations. That is, they could almost do what Jon Stewart and The Daily Show do, but without the satirical/comedic element. That is, CNN could inform viewers how the other two networks are distorting the facts. I remember seeing some programming like this on CNN recently, but my idea would be for more of this programming. Maybe the majority of its programming would be fact-checking.

It’s possible that the networks have already market-tested this idea and found that it won’t work, so that might be why we haven’t yet seen a plethora of this kind of programming, yet, but it’s also possible that no one had considered it or that it was considered and top management didn’t like it.

Maybe my naïvety and wish for this kind of a public service is clouding my strategic thinking, but something tells me that this could work.

[Author’s Note: When I read through this post just now after having written it a couple of days ago, I realized that I didn’t really talk too much about some of the fundamentals of strategy. Look for Part 2 on Sunday.]

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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