Not even three hours a day of Wolf Blitzer could save the job of CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton, who announced his plans to step down today in the face of tanking ratings. “CNN needs new thinking,” said a resigned Walton in a statement. “That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through. And I’m ready for a change.” The original cable news network is too, struggling to maintain the objective high ground in the middle of the road as Fox News and MSNBC pull away.
CNN recently logged its worst ratings quarter in more than two decades, although Walton promised the Wall Street Journal that there was “a lot of internal energy and passion” in the network’s newer shows. “Thus far,” he said, “the ratings haven’t indicated what I think will happen over time, which is that they will continue to grow.”
At the time, Walton also stressed that ratings aren’t everything: “Keep in mind, the advertising revenue that we bring in for the prime-time revenues for CNN U.S. is less than 10% of the overall revenue,” he reminded everyone. The company continues to make tons of money from its various other platforms, including CNN’s website and international networks.
Still, complacency only serves to increase industry skepticism about a staid product and weakening brand. Walton’s boss, Turner Broadcaster CEO Phil Kent, wasn’t exactly reassuring in May: “I can confirm that there’s a long list of people inside and outside the company who have raised their hand or been suggested to me” for Walton’s position, he said. “Who wouldn’t want the job? CNN is an iconic brand with an amazing growth story, due in large part to the leadership of Jim Walton.” The writing was on the wall.
“For some time, I’ve been talking with Phil Kent about wanting to make a change, and he supports my decision,” said Walton today. He’ll stay on through the election and the remainder of the year. But the shake-up couldn’t have come soon enough.