This Is CNN: Low Ratings, High Profits

Although it remains in distant third in the U.S. television ratings behind Fox News Channel and MSNBC, CNN has consistently been a good revenue generator for its parent company Time Warner. In fact, in terms of profits, CNN is on track for record numbers this year.

How is that possible in the face of continued failures in both the daytime and primetime dayparts? The short answer is CNN's self-proclaimed stance that it is non-ideological. While the network is far from ideologically diverse, it still isn't as liberal as MSNBC. That non-partisan angle has led the network to rake in the big bucks:

[A]s a business, CNN is on track to net nearly $600 million in operating profit this year, a record high, which means that in the statistic that matters most, the network is anything but "ailing."

So how does CNN make so much money with such lousy ratings? Oddly enough, the secret is its oft-derided non-partisan perspective and its international presence. In May, Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, CNN's parent company, told shareholders the $600 million figure was linked to its international success. Though often under-appreciated in the States, CNN International, has its tentacles everywhere, as the Financial Times' Emily Steel and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson reported last month. "Its global network CNN International, available in more than 265 million households across more than 200 countries, has reported record growth in audience and ad revenues this year," they reported. And if you're looking for where it compensates for its meager primetime ratings, look no further than this stat: "CNN International accounts for 20 percent of CNN’s global revenue, a spokeswoman says, or twice the contribution from US primetime ads," they reported. "About half of CNN Worldwide’s revenues come from fees from cable and satellite distributors, which research firm SNL Kagan estimates will hit $17 billion in the US alone this year, up 9.3 percent from 2011."

Part of securing those lucrative cable and satellite deals relies on CNN's non-partisan identity (if a provider is going to offer only one 24-hour news channel, it will go with the middle-of-the-road option instead of liberal MSNBC or conservative Fox News).

While I applaud John Hudson, author of the piece quoted above, for correctly discerning that CNN isn't in dire straits, he's flat-out wrong about the political bias angle. As MRC and NewsBusters have demonstrated numerous times over the years, FNC is actually the least-biased in either direction of any cable news channel. That it's perceived as being "conservative" is more of a proof that its competitors in television are liberal-leaning than anything else.

It's unfortunate that Hudson has perpetuated one myth while trying to shatter another one. While some of Fox's primetime hosts definitely have right-leaning opinions, it's by no means fair to characterize Greta Van Susteren as a GOP lackey or to state that Bill O'Reilly is a rock-ribbed conservative. FNC also employs Shepherd Smith as one of its top anchors and he's certainly not been shy about voicing his own liberal beliefs on the air repeatedly.

Hat tip: Johnny Dollar.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013