AOL Time Warner Inc. spent much of the last year shaking up the management at Turner Broadcasting System Inc. But last week it brought back one of Turner's original horses: CNNfn founder Lou Dobbs.
Dobbs, who quit Cable News Network in June 1999 to launch Space.com, will return as the solo host of CNN's Moneyline News Hour
business show on May 14.
Unlike his prior stint, during which he served as CEO of the business-news network, Dobbs won't have a managerial role.
Moneyline's ratings began to dip to the benefit of head-to-head competitor Business Center
on CNBC just before Dobbs jumped ship two years ago, and continued to fall after his departure. But Dobbs confidently predicted a quick turnaround.
"I think it's pretty clear the management team at CNN is results oriented," he said last week. "The leaders and managers are used to winning, and we're going to make certain that Moneyline
is No. 1."
He has his work cut out for him. CNBC's Business Center
averaged 327,000 homes during the first quarter, compared to 249,000 households for Moneyline. Since former Moneyline
anchor Stuart Varney abruptly quit on March 14, Business Center
has padded its lead.
CNBC's show is now averaging 301,000 homes — 59 percent better than Moneyline.
CNN executives said Willow Bay, who took the anchor chair after Varney left, will work on specials and other network programming.
Dobbs left after butting heads with former CNN president Rick Kaplan and other company executives over his desire to own equity in Space.com. Kaplan was ousted last summer.
Dobbs said last week he gets along great with the new AOL Time Warner management, mentioning AOL Time Warner president Bob Pittman and new Turner Broadcasting System Inc. CEO Jamie Kellner.
Dobbs stepped down as Space.com's president but will retain his equity and a seat on the online venture's board of directors. Voting rights associated with his equity will be turned over to co-investors, he said.
Dobbs declined to comment last week on reports that his new CNN contract would pay him up to $5 million annually.
CNN Business News general manager Ken Jautz said the network began courting Dobbs after Varney's departure. Dobbs was said to be in talks with NBC at the time, he noted.
CNN and CNNfn have revamped their business news programming in the last several months, dumping several programs and relegating Street Sweep, which had aired on both networks, solely to CNNfn.
The financial network's name also will change to CNN Money later this year, and it will add new shows aimed at more casual investors.
"We want to maintain our market-oriented focus during the day and add broader personal finance programming in primetime and on the weekend," Jautz said.
Dobbs said he was not opposed to the programming changes CNNfn has made since he left. "Everything in television is evolutionary," he said. "There's nothing static about it. Changes are to be expected, and in many cases desirable."