After Walton, CNN Seeks News Chief To Bolster Ratings

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CNN suffered its first executive
casualty amid flagging
ratings, as network veteran
Jim Walton last Friday (July 27)
resigned as CNN Worldwide president.

Walton, a 30-year network veteran
who has headed CNN Worldwide
for the last nine years, said
in an internal memo that he will
leave that position Dec. 31. While
Walton said he had been talking to
Turner Broadcasting System CEO
Phil Kent about “making a change,”
sources close to CNN said Walton’s
departure was accelerated by the
network’s poor ratings.

Kent will facilitate the search for
Walton’s replacement, according to
CNN officials.

It’s expected that Walton’s replacement
will come from outside
CNN.

Time Warner Inc. chairman and
CEO Jeff Bewkes said in a statement
that since Walton took over
as CNN president in 2003, “CNN
has tripled earnings, doubled margin
and delivered annual growth of
15%.”

But the network’s ratings have
suffered mightily under Walton in
recent years. Once the undisputed
leader in cable news from an audience
perspective, CNN placed second behind Fox News Channel in total viewers from 2002
to 2010, when it dropped to third behind MSNBC.

Last May, CNN generated a 20-year low in primetime ratings, averaging 391,000 viewers
— a 51% decline from the previous year. So far this summer, CNN’s ratings are down 22%
from last year, according to Nielsen.

The network’s recent primetime lineup changes, from adding Piers Morgan to replace
Larry King at 9 p.m. in 2011 to canceling its 7 p.m. John King, USA show last month, have
not increased the network’s ratings fortunes.

“CNN needs new thinking,” Walton said in the memo. “That starts with a new leader who
brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on
our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through. I am proud of what we have accomplished
together over these last 10 years — innovative programming, the development
of great talent in front of and behind the cameras, expansion in digital and mobile, significant
investment and expansion in international coverage, financial success, and most importantly,
great and trusted journalism.”

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