Much has been made of CNN's problems in primetime — in March, the network finished third for the first time ever, and it's currently running fourth in the primetime demo through the first half of April (behind even little sister network HLN).
CNN President Jon Klein, who lately has been quick to dismiss ratings, instead preferring to talk about CNN's revenues and its brand of quality journalism, took a bold step last week, telling Variety that primetime doesn't really matter for a news network.
"We sell against all of our platforms — TV, online, international — and it's hard to say there's one particular daypart or hour of the day that matters more," he said.
An anonymous ad-agency TV buyer called Klein out in that same article, saying CNN's primetime woes represent a "significant issue" for the network and adding, "You can't crow about being the most-watched cable news network on election night, then later on say primetime doesn't matter."
Of course, the TV buyer's point may be somewhat weak in that "being the most-watched cable news network on election night" plays into CNN's positioning as the dominant news brand — but Klein's comments dismissing the primetime demo call to mind comments he made a year ago, when the network was doing better on the strength of primaries and debate coverage.
In April 2008 article celebrating CNN's win in the primetime Adults 25-54 demographic, Klein stressed the importance of ratings — the demo in particular:
Though Fox was still No. 1 in prime time for all ages and other categories, CNN officials said winning the 25-54 demographic is crucial from a business perspective.
"That's the demographic that advertisers are buying," CNN/US President Jonathan Klein said.
Klein's comments were echoed by CNN's EVP of Ad Sales, Greg D'Alba, who recently told Multichannel News, that "TV ratings are important," but "it's about how you define winning. We have a tremendous reach advantage that touches more customers and gives our clients opportunities to sell more products."
For CNN, the definition of "winning" appears to change depending on how the network is performing.