Dream deal: CNN and CBS?

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The notion of a merger between CNN and CBS is surfacing again. Viacom last talked about buying CNN back in June 2003 when then-President Mel Karmazin made an offer to Time Warner that was ultimately rejected. But with the need to find a future model for TV news, the time seems right to revisit this one. Viacom Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer Les Moonves, soon to head up the spun off CBS Corp., noted on Sept. 21 at a Goldman Sachs media event that, "If [Time Warner Chairman-CEO Richard] Parsons wanted to sell it, we'd still be interested in buying CNN." One senior executive suggested that high-level talks are ongoing, but a CBS spokesperson said, "We don't comment on speculation." A CNN spokesman was so dismissive, he didn't even want to acknowledge he was asked about the possibility. So while it remains a pie-in-the-sky idea, we can't help asking the burning question: Can two modern-day media giants share a newsroom without driving each other crazy?

It could happen: Mr. Moonves needs to show Wall Street his company will grow, and he's signaled he wants to do something radical to CBS News. Time Warner, meanwhile, is under pressure from activist shareholder Carl Icahn to jump-start its stock. It seems unlikely that Time Warner would sell CNN outright but some sort of strategic alliance that gains it a broadcast presence wouldn't be a bad thing .

Never gonna happen: The issue of editorial control appears insurmountable. Getting either side to cede its newsroom to the other seems unlikely.

Observers say: "Does CBS need it? They need some category-defining medium," said one Wall Street analyst. "They don't have to do it, but news is a category killer. It's one of the main programming areas that drive people online."

"Neither ABC nor CBS has what NBC has in cable news. Les may be coming late to the party. ... The world of news has gained greater appreciation by all of the networks," said one senior cable news executive.

What each side would bring

U.S. advertising revenue1

CBS News: $294.7 million (includes: "CBS Evening News," "60 Minutes," "60 Minutes II," "Early Show")

CNN: $231.3 million (figures for CNN Headline News not available)

Number of foreign bureaus

CBS News: Six, according to a 2004 Project for Excellence in Journalism report.

CNN: 28 full-time bureaus, 4,000 "news professionals" globally

Online traffic2

CBS News.com: 7.5 million unique audience, ranking it No. 14 out of 15.

CNN.com: 23.56 million unique audience, ranking it No. 3 of 15

Executives

CBS News: Andy Heyward, president, CBS News

CNN: Jim Walton, CEO, CNN News Group

Star power

CBS News: Mike Wallace, Bob Schieffer

CNN: Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour

Historical significance

CBS News: Edward R. Murrow, anchor hero still honored in CBS hallways with the plaque: "He set the standards of excellence that

remain unsurpassed."

CNN: Founder Ted Turner maintains that his greatest life’s work was creating CNN in 1980. The international news giant is celebrating 25 years in business this year.

Baggage

CBS News: Typeface-gate. Questions over authenticity of typed documents suggesting the president got preferential treatment during his service in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS apologizes (2004).

CNN: Tailwind. Original sources refuse to back a story about the use of nerve gas by American forces in Laos to kill U.S. defectors. CNN

retracts the story (1998).

1. TNS Media Intelligence, January-June 2005 2. Nielsen NetRatings, August 2005

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