Fox News continued to dominate cable news in 2012, both in both primetime viewership and — where it really counts — ad revenue and cash flow, as it more than held off a resurgent MSNBC and left a sputtering CNN to hope it can regroup under new CEO Jeff Zucker.
For the year, Fox News is seeing ad revenue increase 12 percent to $838.8 million and cash flow swell 8 percent to $956.5 million.
MSNBC is expecting ad revenue to increase 8 percent to $277 million and cash flow to jump 4 percent to $204 million.
CNN, which has now slipped behind MSNBC in primetime ratings, is finishing 2012 with ad revenues down 7 percent to $378.5 million and cash flow down 9 percent to $400.2 million, according to apples-to-apples figures compiled by research company SNL Kagan and reported by Broadcasting & Cable.
In its heyday after the 2008 presidential election, CNN had $427.7 million in ad revenue. But now its ratings are at a 20-year low and the network’s troubles have become a big distraction within Turner Broadcasting and at uber parent Time Warner.
"They are in trouble," said Kagan analyst Derek Baine, but telling Broadcasting & Cable that things could be worse. "They still have a strong brand name with advertisers, and many of their core customers have stuck with them despite the ratings problems."
Gary Carr, executive director of national broadcast at media buyer TargetCast tcm, agrees.
"CNN is still attractive and still gets bought,” he said, adding that hiring Zucker is a big deal because as a former producer, the CNN job puts him "back in his wheelhouse."
Zucker was hired from NBC Universal to replace Jim Walton as president of CNN Worldwide in January. His new boss, Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent, says Zucker needs to make CNN "essential" to a core group of fans.
Zucker said he plans to expand that fan base, but he said the competition doesn't stop at traditional news networks.
"If we only look at the competition set as Fox News and MSNBC, we are making a mistake. Our competition is anyone who produces nonfiction programming," Zucker is quoted in Ad Age, and noting that CNN would even be going after networks such as Discovery Channel.
Zucker also plans to keep CNN in the middle of the road.
"CNN's role in the world is more important than ever when partisan politics have been so loud," he said during a conference call after his hiring. "We will remain true to the journalistic values that have always been a hallmark of CNN."
Ad Age suggested that Zucker’s success at the "Today" show will be tapped to revitalize CNN's morning programming and speculated that CNN might launch a late-night talk show akin to "The View."
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