CNN's Political Crew Comes Courting

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The 2004 Presidential Election is more than a year away, but Cable News Network came here last week courting Madison Avenue, trying to nail down special sponsorships and unveiling plans for political coverage.

During a breakfast for media buyers at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel — with an overflow attendance of more than 260 people — CNN outlined special programming scheduled for its yearlong "America Votes 2004" election coverage.

CNN brought a veritable Who's Who of on-air talent to the event.

An Hour 'Inside'

The news network, which has been struggling to catch up with Fox News Channel in the ratings, will be expanding its flagship weekday Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics to one hour and adding a weekend edition of the political show on Sunday mornings. That change to an hour kicks off Nov. 3, while the live weekend edition will start in January.

To reach voters in the heartland, CNN is also rolling out the "CNN Election Express," a bus equipped with studio and editing facilities that will permit the network's political team, and shows like Crossfire, to broadcast live from any location in the country.

CNN wants to sell five or six sponsorships for its election coverage, and to reap as much as $30 million from them, according to Greg D'Alba, executive vice president and chief operating officer for CNN Advertising Sales and Marketing.

Chrysler is already on board, and D'Alba expects to lock in two more election sponsors in the next 10 days.

CNN gave media buyers and advertisers a taste of what it will offer in terms of election coverage during two panels, one moderated by Woodruff and the other by Larry King. Woodruff's panel featured a mini-debate on the presidential election among Crossfire's James Carville, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson and Bob Novak. Next came a panel with Woodruff, Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Paula Zahn, Jeff Greenfield, Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider and Victoria Clark.

CNN's election coverage also entails sponsoring the Nov. 4 youth-forum America Rocks the Vote event, to be held in Boston's Faneuil Hall and moderated by Anderson Cooper.

"We've proven we're the network of record for news," D'Alba told the audience during the breakfast. "We expect a ratings gain."

CNN News Group president Jim Walton also briefly addressed the gathering. The new general manager of CNN/U.S., Princell Hair, was present but did not speak to the audience. Afterward, Hair said that the 2004 election will be the most important story of the year, and "we want to own it."

MSNBC's Take

Last week FNC declined to comment on its ad sales plans for the election. But MSNBC was touting its advantage over CNN to advertisers during the political season.

"Nobody can offer what NBC can," said Jim Hoffman, senior vice president of sales for NBC Network News and MSNBC. "We offer the flexibility that no other entity in television can offer."

Advertisers can buy time during election campaign coverage — either on individual networks or in any combination — on MSNBC, CNBC, NBC or Telemundo, according to Hoffman.

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