Brian Steinberg, Senior TV Editor, Variety.com
CNN recently unveiled slogan “go there,” but some ad-buying executives may not want to follow that command.
As CNN begins to hold upfront conversations, several ad buyers say the Time Warner-owned cable-news outlet is meeting with resistance. These buyers said CNN has historically been able to command high rates in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure also known as a CPM that is central to the annual upfront market, when U.S. networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. In 2014, buyers say they are pushing back against the network’s initial terms.
Skepticism from buyers – a natural element of this yearly haggle – comes after CNN has reworked its positioning . The network, part of Time Warner’’s Turner unit, is relying more heavily in primetime on documentary series and during the rest of the day seeking out stories that help it stand apart from competitors, as it did when it followed the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Doing so, however, has CNN veering slightly from the pitch it has long thrown to Madison Avenue: For years, CNN has portrayed itself as a high-quality source of straight news, one that ought to command a premium. And the network still inhabits that role. But with its ratings slipping over the long term, and a new emphasis being placed on what buyers view as “entertainment programming” for an hour of primetime, sponsors are pushing for a reworking of the relationship CNN has had with advertisers.
“I’m pretty confident they’ll have to make some adjustments in the market this year,” said one media-buying executive.
The seeming standoff comes as CNN has been under more scrutiny in the past year. While CNN remains a go-to venue when big breaking news takes place, the network has found keeping viewers riveted to its screen a tougher task as competing news outlets have staked out new turf. Fox News Channel regularly wins more viewers than CNN. MSNBC provides competition as well. In the past year, new entrants have tested the waters. Al Jazeera America, while not generating big viewership, has bountiful cash reserves and a hard-news focus. Fusion, a new network backed by ABC and Univision, is experimenting with ways to reach Hispanic and millennial viewers.
Given an expanding field of players, it’s little wonder ad buyers want to try to carve out more favorable terms with CNN. News audiences can be purchased more efficiently elsewhere, several buyers suggested, especially in digital-only venues, which have attracted more consumers seeking information about current events.
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