Jeff Bewkes predicts ratings-challenged CNN "…will be one of the fastest growing networks over the next few years"
Jeff Bewkes is keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to reports that former NBCUniversal chief Jeff Zucker has been tapped to run CNN Worldwide.
"We’re going to have an announcement soon," Bewkes said at Business Insider's Ignition conference in New York City on Wednesday.
The Time Warner chief did not comment further on who will be charged with rejuvenating that the rating-challenged news network, which has found its objective approach to news-gathering lagging behind more politically partisan rivals such as MSNBC and Fox News. He did, however, reject the perception that CNN is mired in the doldrums.
Citing CNN's highly-rated presidential election night coverage, Bewkes said that the cable network is still the preferred destination for breaking news. It's the most watched cable network he argued, but its viewers tend to tune in for shorter periods of time than they do to Fox News and MSNBC — that is a trend that advertisers don't like to see.
"It's not just about ratings…some nights we will win, some nights we’re not aiming to do that," Bewkes said.
He compared CNN to HBO, the company's premium cable channel, which has put a greater emphasis on brand building than ratings. CNN, Bewkes insisted, remains financially successful; generating money by licensing its content across multiple platforms and charging retransmission fees to cable providers. Primetime ad revenue, Bewkes said, accounts for just 10 percent of CNN's overall earnings.
"I think it's going to be one of the fastest growing networks in the country over the next few years," Bewkes said.
Although he seemed non-unperturbed by CNN's ratings' nose-dive, Bewkes has previously told analysts that he is focused on goosing viewership at the network by presenting the news in a "…compelling and more engaging way."
Just don't number Bewkes among the old media skeptics. He said that the cable business is roaring despite the rise of internet streaming services like Netflix.
"Here’s a better business than the internet — television," Bewkes said.
"I don't know if anyone realizes the extent to which TV is taking over the internet, rather than the other way around," he added.
Bewkes said that cable companies have continued to thrive in recent years. As evidence he argued that the number of people subscribing to cable has increased, along with the number of minutes people spend watching television. In addition, he said that earnings and profits for cable companies are up and the quality of programming has gotten better.
The often blunt media chieftain was even generous when it came to new media titans like Google and Netflix who are making big bets on original content. Bewkes said that he expected some of the shows these companies produce will be good. However, he noted that media reports have focused breathlessly on how various Silicon Valley players are spending north of $100 million on programming, but said that it was important to compare those figures to Time Warner's own bottom line.
"To put it in perspective, we're doing $5 billion in production on our networks and TV business, so welcome," Bewkes said.