The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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What do NBC's Jeff Zucker and CNN's Jon Klein's firings have in common?

Jeff_zucker It was certainly no surprise to read this morning that Jeff Zucker's new Comcast bosses gave him the ax, since the NBC Universal chief executive had presided over a series of high-profile debacles, notably the hiring of Ben Silverman to run NBC, the network's precipitous drop into last place, the whole Conan O'Brien-Jay Leno late-night disaster and the long run of executive turmoil and box-office flops at Universal Pictures.

Nor is it any surprise to learn that CNN U.S. President Jon Klein is out today as well, after failing to figure out how to stop the cable news channel's continuing ratings slide. But what do the two events have in common? It's yet another example of how quickly the public has lost its loyalty to what were once dominant mainstream showbiz brands. The most startling statistic I saw in the stories about Zucker wasn't that NBC Universal generated roughly $2.3 billion in profits last year; it was how little NBC figured into the revenue picture: 80% of those profits came from the company's cable division.

While the media has focused on Zucker's high-profile failures, he has had success, but it came almost exclusively in the cable arena, where NBC made huge profits from such channels as USA, Bravo, Syfy and Oxygen, along with strong showings from its CNBC financial business channel and MSNBC, which has recently logged record profits. In today's showbiz America, the old brands are slowly dying while the real action is in niche-oriented cable channels, which are killing the cobwebby old network news shows and, for the most part, creating far more buzz and excitement with their entertainment shows than network TV.

In fact, what has hurt CNN the most under Klein's tenure has been its public perception as the most mainstream cable news, the channel that planted itself right in the middle of the road, as if it were a network news outlet. In news today, viewers don't value objectivity--they're in the thrall of colorful opinionators like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. So it is the channels that have staked out clear-cut niches, Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left, that have flourished by unabashedly playing to their specific political followings. It's no surprise to see that Klein is being replaced by Ken Jautz, head of CNN's tabloid-oriented sister channel HLN (formerly Headline News), which has enjoyed ratings success by playing to its own specific niche, with rabidly opinionated hosts (like Nancy Grace and Joy Behar) and heavy crime and celebrity coverage.

There's no guarantee that Zucker or Klein's successors will have any instant success turning their troubled companies around. But at least they will be steering their businesses in a more potentially viable direction. Under GE's ownership, NBC too often echoed the GE mass appeal approach to wooing consumers. But now that it's owned by Comcast, which has been a powerhouse in the cable business, expect to see NBC establishing itself in even more niche-oriented businesses. In showbiz, if you're in the middle of the road, it simply means you might get run over from either side of the information highway. The future of the entertainment business, whether it's in television or on the Web, is all about grabbing your loyal core audience and holding on to it for dear life.  

Photo: Jeff Zucker at the NBC Universal upfront presentation in New York earlier this year. Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press

 
Comments () | Archives (5)

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God bless the diversity of opinion. That's good for democracy. But, for people, who at least occasionally want it straight, there seem to be fewer and fewer places to go for real, well-funded journalism. That IS NOT good for democracy.

In fact, what has hurt CNN the most under Klein's tenure has been its public perception as the most mainstream cable news, the channel that planted itself right in the middle of the road, as if it were a network news outlet. In news today, viewers don't value objectivity--they're in the thrall of colorful opinionators like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. So it is the channels that have staked out clear-cut niches, Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left.

This is a sad commentary on our nation.

What they have in common is that their ratings deminished, therefore sponsers are not paying them as much, and they are losing millions that they previously made. Oh, wait, that's just what their far-left progressive so called news people hate so much and talk about so much. How horrid of these networks to make billions, their executives to make millions, and their key pundits to make hundreds of thousands. These executives and the NBC/MSNBC/CNN Board of Directors only have themselves to blame. They hired extremeist progessive hit men and women (Olberman, Maddow, Schultz, King, etc.) who hate anything non-progressive. These executives gambled (as wall street does) that everything Democrats stood for would be done and actually work. They put all their eggs in one basked. When it failed, it turned public off with resulting ratings losses.

As political tools and clones of Congress and this Presidents, these networks themselves created interest in Fox, whose ratings far exceed both MSNBC and CNN combined. They took total power,influence and control, then they went way too far left with no balance. Even if we don't believe the statement to be true, these networks were the ones themselves who made Fox's "fair and balanced" statement sell. They shot themselves in the foot and only have themselves to blame.

As a black man, my take is that CNN was never down the middle. It is a network that is full of left leaning anchors and reporters. MSNBC has the corner on that market, so that leaves CNN with no liberals or conservatives watching. All that leaves for CNN is people who find Rick Sanchez entertaining, not much there, and those that are fixated by Wolf Blitzer's beard.

"In fact, what has hurt CNN the most under Klein's tenure has been its public perception as the most mainstream cable news, the channel that planted itself right in the middle of the road, as if it were a network news outlet."

Ha, ha, ha, you're killing me! Man, what kind of oxygen mixture do they give you over there on Spring St.?

I'm with Cleo Watts, 100%.


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