How CNN, CBS News Could Benefit From Potential Partnership

Rumored Deal Could Cut Costs and Grow Revenue

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The news is in the news yet again. People familiar with the situation are throwing cold water on an online report from New York magazine that suggests CNN and CBS News are once again on the cusp of a partnership -- although there are plenty of reasons why a deal could make sense for either side.

CNN's Anderson Cooper presented a segment on CBS's '60 Minutes' this past weekend.
CNN's Anderson Cooper presented a segment on CBS's '60 Minutes' this past weekend. Credit: CBS
Talks between the two parties have surfaced occasionally over the years. The costs of running a global news organization remain substantial, but audiences for broadcast news have dwindled over the long term. The networks have steadily cut staffing of their news departments as that dynamic has continued, with the Project for Excellence in Journalism estimating that network-news staffing dropped 8% in 2009 with yet more cuts taking place at ABC and CBS in 2010.

Both CBS and CNN declined to comment on potential talks. If any discussions are going on, they are informal at best, people familiar with the situation said, and neither network is poised to announce any pact in the near future.

However, there are reasons why a partnership would be appealing to either side. CBS seems to be looking for new ways to finance some of its best-known mainstays; its deal with Time Warner's Turner unit -- parent of CNN -- to jointly broadcast the NCAA men's basketball championships in coming years shows how the economics of broadcast-TV jewels might soon transform.

For CNN, such a deal would lend more marquee talent to its roster at a time when its weekday prime-time lineup is ailing. Adding talent from the CBS News nameplate -- home to Cronkite and Murrow -- would also boost the CNN programming premise of presenting straight news without an angle or filter. That premise helped the network grow over the years but has come under pressure as Fox News and MSNBC have attracted viewers with more-opinionated takes.

There's no reason to believe this latest round of speculation will bear any more fruit than any of those in the past. Both networks' news departments have their own culture, and who's to say whether Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper or John King would be the best voice and persona to inform the nation during a national crisis?

It's worth noting, however, that the two news departments have shared talent in the past: Anderson Cooper presented a segment on "60 Minutes" this past weekend and Christiane Amanpour, about to go to ABC from CNN, has also served as a correspondent on the show.

But the ability to mix talent, cut costs and grow revenue is an increasingly attractive one. So unless the American workday shifts so that more people get home in time to watch network news, allowing broadcast networks to raise the cost of advertising on these venerable telecasts, this sort of chatter will likely crest again and again -- until someone puts an end to it with a business transaction.

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