Can (and Should) CNN Successfully Pivot Away from 24-Hour Cable News?

It seems that the world might not really need TV news, 24-hours a day after-all. Over 30 years ago, CNN was launched with the idea that a cable news channel could provide a constant stream of news, day and night, for hungry viewers. Prior to CNN, Americans gathered around their television sets for 30 minutes a day to listen to Walter Cronkite tell us what was “news.”

But the 24-hour news experiment may be over. CNN is reportedly re-thinking the concept that there’s enough news, and viewers, for constant, instantaneous news broadcasting. 

With ratings at their worst in 20 years, and the quality and accuracy of broadcast news in a precipitous decline, CNN is reportedly plotting to disrupt the cable news market by developing more “nonfiction programming”—talk shows, reality programming, etc. It could be a major pivot for the newsmaker—in the vein of MTV’s successful programming shift after the fall of the need for a constant stream of 24-hour-a-day music videos. Just as the “M” in MTV no longer stands for “Music” so may go the “N” for “News” in CNN.

There’s no shame in the pivot, in fact if CNN successfully reinvent themselves, they will demonstrate that they not only can create a new genre once, but twice.

With Fox News and MSNBC owning “commentary” news on the Right and the Left, CNN was left in the middle—trying to deliver objective, high-minded news, 24-hours a day. It hasn’t worked out very well. There simply is not enough straight news to fill 24 hours of broadcasting—no matter how hard they tried.

If they do overhaul the network by abandoning the idea that they can deliver “news” 24 hours a day, they may very-well steer it into a new, unchartered port, that could just save the network, by creating a new genre.

There has been no official announcement of a pivot, but the New York Post reports that “executives have been talking to Hollywood agencies and producers, mulling a late-night talk show in the style of "The View," a slew of reality programming on weekends, and searching for hosts from outside the normal TV news arenas.” One official announcement that throws fuel on the fire of a major strategic pivot is the signing on of traveling chef Anthony Bourdain, who is set to debut a new Sunday night CNN show starting early next year.

The idea is more “non-fiction” programming (an elevation of the “reality” show genre made famous by Bravo, TLC, and MTV.

The key for a successful pivot will come from CNN’s ability to release itself from the shackles of serving up only high-minded news—just as MTV gave up the idea that they had to be all about music. If CNN can successfully pivot away from 24-hour news, and at the same time elevate the reality-TV marketplace with “non-fiction” programming, they might be saved after all.

Sources: New York Magazine, New York Post 

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