Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent admitted to being "very
unhappy" with CNN's primetime ratings, but said it won't resort to tricks to
CNN ratings hit a 20-year low in May and speaking at the Nomura
U.S. Media & Telecom Summit Thursday, Kent said the company had plans to
improve the quality of its broadcasts and increase viewership.
Kent said the ratings problems had two causes, some he
called environmental and the others "self-inflicted."
Over the years, CNN has benefited from breaking news and in
the first five months of this year, there have been few big stories, especially
compared to last year's rush of unrest in the Middle East, tsunamis, reactor
meltdowns and earthquakes.
Even the election has been "pretty boring to people," said
Kent, who expects interest in politics to heat up.
"This is not an excuse. It's just a fact," said Kent,
calling those factors about half the problem.
The self-inflected problems stems from the fact that "we
haven't put the best shows on the air," he said.
Kent said CNN's current primetime lineup still has "very
high potential." He called Anderson Cooper a television news star who "at this
moment is not getting a star's ratings and that's because of lead-ins."
But Kent also offered support for Erin Burnett and Piers
Morgan, whose shows lead in to Coopers'.
He calls Burnett "a great get for us," but said "that show
should be doing better. I think that show can do better. I think it's just a
question of a terrific talent with the right staff around her playing as much
to her strengths as possible."
Kent also said the company believes strongly in Morgan, who
replaced CNN mainstay Larry King. "I think he's a tremendous interviewer," he
said, adding that "it seems to be that when he is interviewing people that are
in the news in a meaningful way, the show works better than a typical celebrity
interview. I don't really know what to
make of that yet."
Of the rest of CNN's lineup, "we have some other shows that
probably need to be replaced. This is an execution issue and to me, this is TV
Kent said the challenge of raising CNN's ratings is unique
because "there are lots of ways to get ratings and every local news director
has some tricks up their sleeve to get ratings. We choose not to do that."
He said that, contrary to some published reports, his boss,
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has not been hammering him about CNN's ratings.
"The pressure on all of us, on me, on the CNN management
from me is to raise the quality and the consistency of the quality," he said.
"I am a firm believer that if we raise the quality of these shows and make them
a little surprising -- sometimes also
it's also a little repetitive throughout the day -- if we raise the
quality and we do it with consistency
the ratings will be just fine. I can't tell you that we'll beat this one
or that one. But they'll be a hell of a lot better than they are right now and
we'll be fine."
Kent said CNN ratings have not been a factor in recent
carriage negotiations with distributors.
He said he's expecting TNT's ratings to rebound in the second
half of the year, as TBS' already have, and that the company will be recording
significant increases in carriage fees as its deals with cable operators expire
between 2014 and 2016.
Turner's fees have
been undervalued since it gave up the NFL. Now after increasing spending on
original programming and sports deals for key events like the NCAA Men's
College Basketball Tournament, it has more must-have programming, Kent said.
But Turner prefers not to negotiate in public or take out
ads telling consumers that they might lose some of their favorite channels.
"That's led to a misperception we're too passive," Kent said.
But he said Turner has already gotten "significant growth" in sub fees on the
back of the NCAAs and other programming investments.