CNN and CBS are once again in direct talks about combining their considerable resources for newsgathering. CBS has been last in news ratings for 12 years and has endured significant staff cuts. CNN, in the meantime has hired new staff members, although its ratings have decreased against other cable news organizations in recent months.
CBS could presumably realize considerable cost savings if a deal enabled the network to rely on more of CNN’s extensive newsgathering resources. The current talks — reported last week on the website for New York magazine — follows closely on a recent $10.8 billion deal between CBS Sports and Turner Sports, another arm of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner. That deal created a partnership to share the future rights to the NCAA basketball tournament.
In what several executives noted was the logical connection between the sports and news talks, Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, is also the president of CBS News.
The New York Times reported that people with knowledge of the situation said that discussions between the two companies about pooling news resources were rekindled in recent weeks, though they emphasized that no deal was imminent. None of these people would be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the deal.
CNN has also faced its own ratings issues recently. While still consistently profitable (it has reported rising earnings for six years in row), many of the news channel’s signature programs have suffered steep declines in ratings in the last year.
CNN finished fourth and last in prime time among news networks, behind Fox News, MSNBC and its own sister network, HLN. Ratings of some of CNN’s most recognizable hosts, including Anderson Cooper and Larry King, have fallen by more than 30 percent.
Several television executives cautioned that a full-fledged merger of CBS News and CNN would be difficult to consummate for several reasons. First, there would be problems involving union contracts: CBS’s news division is unionized; CNN’s is not. Contracts for on-the-air employees would also probably have to be renegotiated.
And the issue that has derailed previous efforts for both CBS and ABC to unite with CNN would still have to be resolved: Which company would have editorial control over the news programming?