As the rumors about a partnership between CNN and CBS News have surfaced once again, Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said on the company's May 5 earnings call that "it's entirely possible" that a partnership between CNN and a broadcast news outlet could come together in the next several months.
It was the most direct pronouncement yet on the anonymous speculation which has surfaced time and again for the last decade.
Bewkes hinted that CBS News was not the only broadcast news outlet that CNN is engaged in talks with, indicating that a CNN/ABC News partnership was also on the table. ABC News recently completed a brutal downsizing that eliminated 25% of the news division -- about 400 jobs. ABC News also has been in talks with CNN in the past.
CNN/U.S. has experienced ratings erosion in recent quarters, especially in primetime, where it competes with popular hosts on Fox News and MSNBC. And CBS News has remained a perennial third in morning and evening newscasts among broadcast competitors NBC and ABC.
Bewkes conceded that he is "not happy" with CNN's ratings and is looking for improvement but he also stressed that the network's financial model remains "very strong."
"It's no secret that we've talked with other news organizations in the past," he said. "We don't have anything definitive to tell you about right now."
But he said that CNN could benefit from better "execution" on the U.S. channel. "We need to work on making the [programming on CNN/U.S.] more compelling."
A partnership with CBS News could presumably up CNN's game, giving the cable channel access to CBS News personalities such as Lara Logan, Scott Pelley and Katie Couric, who has been mentioned before as a replacement for Larry King, who is 76. Meanwhile CNN has lent its stars to CBS News; Anderson Cooper is a contributor for 60 Minutes and Christiane Amanpour had a similar arrangement with 60 during her CNN tenure.
Bewkes also stressed that CNN could greatly benefit an "old broadcast news outlet that doesn't have" the ability to amortize costs and programming the way cable news does. But he stressed that: "We have no desire to own a broadcast network."
"The questions of motivation is not because of CNN," he said, but "It's more because of the imperatives of broadcast news."