Jeff Bewkes Blames CNN’s Ratings Struggles on Bored Viewers

Time Warner chief says “more people watch CNN than Fox News,” but tune out quickly

“We need to do a better job at programming the news.”

That was the reason Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes gave on Wednesday for firing CNN president Jon Klein in September, before two of the programs Klein developed — “Parker Spitzer” and "Piers Morgan Tonight" — took flight.

Bewkes’ comments came during a wide-ranging discussion with New York Times media columnist David Carr at the Paley Center for Media's International Council 2010, a three-day forum that kicked off today in New York. (The theme: “The Rebirth of Media Worldwide.”)

“It’s a harder job to cover the center,” Bewkes said of CNN’s third (and sometimes fourth) place status in the cable news ratings race. But Bewkes pushed back a bit on talk of CNN’s ratings troubles.

“Here’s a little-known fact about CNN,” he said. “More people watch CNN on television than the ratings-leader, Fox. But we get a lower rating.”

Bewkes continued: “How does that happen? Our viewers tune in for a shorter amount of time.”

CNN’s viewers tune in for news, “and when they get it, they go,” Bewkes said. “Or we bore the hell out of them when they come and we're trying to fix that.”

Bewkes characterized CNN’s core viewer as a “raging moderate” — which he defined as someone who “really has passion, but can move around” the dial. And keeping them occupied at CNN is “a harder thing to do” than it is for Fox and MSNBC’s partisan bent.

Carr got Bewkes, who practically sweats corporate synergy, to admit to watching one Fox show –“Family Guy” — in his free time, though Bewkes was quick to point out that TBS owns its syndication rights.

Bewkes also boasted that the trendlines for CNN, and the rest of Time Warner’s networks, are headed in the right direction. Viewers, profits — “everything about these networks, is up.”

Progamming note: Jeff Zucker, the soon-to-be-ex-president and CEO of NBC Universal, is scheduled to be interviewed at the Paley Center on Thursday by “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer.

Check back here for a recap of that one.