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Ownership

Ownership

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

There were no significant ripples when it came to cable news ownership.

MSNBC moved in with its more established corporate sibling, NBC News, to make the organization more efficient and share resources.

News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, kept analysts busy in 2007 as it finally launched its long-anticipated business channel and turned even more heads by acquiring the Dow Jones & Company, a move that offers possibilities to both the new Fox Business channel as well as for Fox News, its online presence and more.

MSNBC

At MSNBC, 2007 was marked by consolidating operations with NBC in New York as part of parent company General Electric’s cost-cutting program that it marketed as NBC 2.0,1 the branding of programming around politics, and the positioning of its programming, not so explicitly marketed, as a liberal alternative to Fox News. In October 2007, nearly 600 MSNBC employees left what had been the channel’s home base for 10 years in Secaucus, N.J., and moved across the Hudson River into the Rockefeller Center offices of NBC News in Manhattan. The new collective, operating under the NBC News banner, includes NBC News, MSNBC, New York local station WNBC-TV, Spanish-language network Telemundo and the online news site MSNBC.com.

GE’s other 24-hour cable channel, CNBC, which focuses on business news, continued to be housed in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (see more about the channel in our discussion on Business News).

The new offices include state-of-the-art studios and other infrastructure investments. The on-air layout includes varied sets for anchors to use as news unfolds. In all, the two studios — NBC News and MSNBC — produce 12.5 hours of live television per day.2

One of the costs of NBC2.0 materialized in December 2007, when NBC Universal made good on plans to reduce staff. NBC’s president, Jeff Zucker. reported plans to cut 1% of the workforce at NBC News, which translated into 15 to 20 jobs spread across MSNBC and NBC News (which together have about 2,000 employees).3

In terms of programming strategy, MSNBC stuck to the same path it started down during the mid-term elections in 2006, focusing itself around politics (see more in our analysis of Politics and Cable News.)

There were few changes in management as dust settled from the refocusing of 2006 (see 2007 report.) Dan Abrams, formerly general manager, went back to the anchor chair of a legal affairs/true crime program. NBC’s senior vice president, Phil Griffin, took over general manager duties and daily operations of the channel, while a new hire, Shannon High-Bassalik, became managing editor of MSNBC in October 2007.

CNN

Time Warner, the world’s largest media company and owner of CNN, readied itself in 2007 for what may be the transition to its next era. The year ended with the departure of its CEO, Richard Parsons, who had overseen the stabilization of the company following the tumult and disappointment of the difficult merger with AOL. While analysts have criticized the company for caution, Parsons was also credited with leaving the company more sure-footed than it was when he arrived. According to the New York Times, Parsons “immediately steadied the ship in the wake of the AOL-Time Warner merger.”4

On January 1, 2008, Parsons was succeeded as CEO by Jeffrey Bewkes.

Time Warner owns CNN through the Turner Broadcasting System. Of the Turner media holdings, CNN is the most recognized news and information brand. The others include entertainment networks such as TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim and Court TV (which changed its name to truTV in January 2008 to reflect its switch to non-courtroom-related reality shows).5

At CNN, Jonathan Klein renewed his contract in December 2007 as president of CNN U.S. for four more years.

The CNN brand extends to a whole host of entities. Among these, the important entities are CNN International, CNN Airport Network, CNN Radio, CNN en Español, CNN Newsource, CNNMoney.com and its Web site, CNN.com (see more about the last in Online Trends).

CNN Radio, the radio channel that airs CNN TV content and original programming, had more than 2,100 affiliated radio stations worldwide as it marked its 25th birthday in 2007. Launched in April 1982, the radio network has staff based in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

CNN International started in September 1985, four years after CNN, and expanded substantially in the early 1990’s as an alternative to the BBC World News Service programming outside the United States. According to CNN, the network is split into four sub-regions that have 26 bureaus combined. Along with 24-hour broadcasting, CNN International has a Web site and mobile services.

CNN NewsSource is the network’s syndicated news service, which U.S. and foreign television stations can access through a subscription. Through this service, CNN acts somewhat like a broadcast network, providing content to local television stations, as well as its cable channels. Launched in October 1987, it provides content to 800 stations in the U.S. and to 200 international affiliates.

CNNMoney.com is CNN’s business-only Web site. Originally launched as CNNfn.com in 1995, along with the business television channel, the site became CNNMoney in 2001 in partnership with Money magazine. It is currently the online home of Fortune, Money and Fortune Small Business – all three print business magazines that are part of Time Inc., a component of Time Warner.7

CNN Airport Network, launched in January 1992, is the only satellite-delivered, 24-hour television service designed for air travelers. It is available in 42 U.S. airports and is seen at more than 1,800 gates and other public areas.8

CNN en Español, CNN’s Spanish-language television channel, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007. Launched in March 1997, it reaches 13 million homes in Latin America (and 2.5 million in the U.S.). According to the channel’s Web site (www.cnn.com/espanol,) which represents both CNN’s Spanish radio and television programming, CNN en Español features 26 news programs, with 27 affiliated journalists.

Fox News Channel

In July 2007, News Corp., the parent company of the Fox News channel, focused the attention of the financial world by succeeding in its unsolicited takeover bid of Dow Jones & Company, publisher of the Wall Street Journal (see more in our Newspaper chapter.)

The sale of the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s most respected financial information newspaper, had important implications for the entire company, and for cable news. Dow Jones was anticipated to become a strategic resource for content and talent for both Fox News and the newly launched Fox Business Network (see more in Business News).

As far as Murdoch’s future, he announced at the annual shareholder’s meeting in October 2007 that he has no plans to resign for at least three years (2010)9. At the same meeting, shareholders voted to continue with the two-tiered stock system, giving the Murdoch family’s shares greater voting or “super voting” shares – they get 39% of the company’s votes despite owning 15% of the equity.10

News Corp. lists itself as a diversified entertainment company in its 2007 annual report,11 with eight distinct businesses, all of which appear in the U.S. These are:

The Fox brand extends to all its broadcast and film properties, while the Fox News brand, in particular, extends to the radio network and the new business channel.

Fox News Radio was begun in June 2005 and, like CNN Radio, is a syndicated service that distributes the television channel’s news programming to radio stations across the country. The network is distributed through the two largest satellite radio services, XM and Sirius, as well (see the Radio chapter.) In addition, subscribers can get a dedicated channel of talk programming, Fox News Talk, that features Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Alan Colmes among others. All three are among the top talk show hosts on radio, with Hannity the second-most popular among all radio talk show hosts in 2007, behind only Rush Limbaugh. According to Talkers Magazine, he had 12 million listeners every week on average in Spring 2007.12

Footnotes

1. General Electric Company, Letter to Shareholders, 2006 Annual Report. Online at : http://www.ge.com/ar2006/ltr_strategic.htm

2. Michael Learmonth, “NBC integrates with MSNBC,” Variety, October 21, 2007

3. Paul J Gough, “NBC News to eliminate 15-20 Jobs,” Hollywood Reporter, December 6, 2007

4. Brian Stelter, “Parsons to Step Down as Time Warner Chief,” New York Times, November 5, 2007

5. Jon Lafayette, “Court TV Changes Name to truTV,” TV Week, July 11, 2007

6. CNN Fact Sheet provided by CNN PR with data as of July 2007.

7. It attracts more than 7.4 million unique visitors per month, according to a CNN press release in December 2007. In its earnings release for the second quarter of 2007, Time Warner singled out CNNMoney.com as a leader in digital advertising revenues.

8. Source: CNN Fact Sheet provided by CNN PR with data as of July 2007.

9. David Goetzl, “Murdoch to remain in News Corp. Saddle,” Media Post, October 22, 2007

10. David Lieberman, “News Corp. hangs onto its dual-class stock system,” USA Today, October 22, 2007

11. News Corp., 2007 Annual Report, June 30, 2007; Online at: http://www.newscorp.com/Report2007/AR2007.pdf

12. Talkers Magazine, “Top Talk Radio Announcers,” October 2007, page 8.