Katie Hallen -- CNN and CBS News have kicked off talks to begin sharing reporting resources and information for their news programs, according to several news reports this week. Most notably, this would include a partnership between “Anderson Cooper: 360” and the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.” While rumors have been swirling for months that CBS News was courting Cooper to replace Couric when her contract comes up for negotiation next year, I think a CNN-CBS partnership hints at another trend in broadcast news – consolidation.
Faced with dismal advertising and declining viewership, the TV news business from network to cable is looking to innovate – and fast. One of the problems they face is a lack of clear differentiation. With Couric, Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer, the trio of network news, essentially covering the same five stories night after night, viewers are getting tired of picking based on personality alone. But, at least, all of the network personalities are generally likeable.
The personality problem is far worse over on cable, with viewers forced to decide: which unlikeable personality do I like the most? The content and perspective may be radically different, but are the personalities of Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly so unalike? Which one can shout the loudest, or cut a source down to size the fastest?
It should be no surprise that the ratings are down across the board. Over at CNN, one anonymous producer recently told Tom Shales at The Washington Post that things were so bad at “John King, USA” that the show was only watched by King’s “friends and relatives.” Good thing King has a lot of friends. Meanwhile, Couric’s program, despite a few election-season boosts, has remained a distant third.
Hence, a CNN-CBS model is one to watch. For one, it’s one of the most innovative moves we’ve seen recently from TV news. If it succeeds at keeping costs down and content fresh, we should expect to see other entities move in this direction, similar to what we have been seeing on the print side for some time now. If they don’t innovate fast, I am afraid we will be down one major news network in the next five years.