CNN in partnership talks with CBS News

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- CNN's parent company Time Warner confirmed on Wednesday that it is in discussions with CBS News as well as other broadcast news organizations about a possible news-gathering partnership.

On a conference call with analysts following Time Warner's financial report, Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes said the company has been talking to several news networks about a potential deal. In addition to CNN, Time Warner is the parent company of CNNMoney.com and Fortune.

"We're open to a deal, whether it's with CBS or any other news network," said Bewkes. "It's no secret we've been talking to other news networks in the past. There's a lot of financial strength at CNN that puts us in a good position to offer a solution to the financial problems of network news organizations."

Times are tough for broadcast news organizations. Ratings are down, especially at CBS News, which trails NBC News and ABC News in prime time. ABC News recently announced layoffs of 400 of its staff.

CNN has also slumped in the ratings since beating all other news networks in the coverage of the 2008 election. Bewkes said that he is "not happy" with CNN's ratings and is "working to fix that, while remaining committed to nonpartisan journalism."

At the same time, Bewkes noted that CNN is in excellent financial shape, posting its best-ever profit in 2009 and leading all other Turner networks in profit. He said CNN cast the widest net, bringing in more viewers than its rivals, though they tend to tune in for shorter periods of time. That widespread viewership has allowed CNN to continue to charge higher subscription fees to cable and satellite providers -- a luxury broadcast networks are only just starting to take advantage of.

Financial strength is something desperately sought by CBS News and ABC News. That's not the case at NBC News, analysts say, because it can use the news-gathering resources of its cable networks CNBC and MSNBC. Those resources are what Bewkes thinks would make a CNN partnership with a broadcast news network work.

"Networks could take advantage of CNN's quality and news gathering, which would alleviate their cost problems," Bewkes said. "We have economies of scale in news gathering that traditional news organizations don't have."

CNN and CBS already have some crossover: CNN's Anderson Cooper also reports for CBS's "60 Minutes." Christiane Amanpour has done the same, but will leave CNN this year to host ABC's "This Week." Also, Time Warner announced last week that it will share broadcasting rights with CBS for the NCAA men's college basketball tournament for the next 14 years.

Bewkes said it is "entirely possible" that CNN and CBS could come to an "arrangement that makes sense" within the next 12 months. He noted that it is not talking exclusively to CBS, and it could be "another party," but he said there was "no particular obstacle to doing anything that makes sense."

If a deal gets done, it would likely be a partnership rather than a straight buyout. Bewkes said that Time Warner (TWX, Fortune 500) has no need or desire to own its own broadcast network. To top of page

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