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To Save CNN, You Must Kill It

Stocks in this article: TWX FOXA CMCSA

Blow It Up and Start Over

Oddly, CNN can learn from radio. Traditional radio.

Despite the medium's recent and relative ineptitude, broadcast radio has always been good at the format change. To be specific, it has always been very good at having the courage to take the leap and change formats and execute the actual format flip. This is not to say all new formats work out. Some stations have become known for changing formats with the wind. That's never good. But there's nothing better in the broad media business than witnessing the execution and implementation of a well-timed, -planned and -executed format change, particularly ones accompanied by highly-produced, but still genuine pomp and circumstance.

CNN requires a format change. A wholesale format change. In the spirit of radio's most dramatic shifts.

At this unfortunate juncture, sandwiched in-between the partisan infotainment of Twenty-First Century Fox's (FOXA) Fox News and Comcast's (CMCSA) MSNBC, CNN essentially runs a worthless operation. Most programming kills time between advertisements. 

There's no there there.

Without a major news story to obsess over there's pretty much no reason to watch CNN. There's no outrage to pump your fists in unison with or react to full of anger. With few exceptions, you learn nothing you didn't know when you watch CNN. The network's void of compelling personalities -- it doesn't have a Bill O' Reilly. Granted, he might not be the best example, but you get the point. There's nobody at CNN who resonates strongly enough to keep people coming back for more -- with feeling -- night after night after night.

Say what you will about the people who run Fox News, but they have mastered the art of infotainment and, while they win with a near-dead audience, they still win. Fox will need to adequately address their demo-related issues, but that's another story for another day.

Fox concocted a formula CNN can't copy, has no idea now to counter and probably shouldn't waste its time emulating or directly beating back anyway. So it's time to scrap the present failed experiment of randomness and get on with something that can set CNN apart and raise the bar on quality news and entertainment (using the term "entertainment" broadly; as in the word can and does mean more than something that's "funny").

CNN needs to take a page from radio -- back in the heyday -- and blow the whole thing up. Like literally shut it down.


At midnight.

Turn off the transmitter. Or whatever they do in TV to take the network off the air.

Let that roll for a few hours while people try to figure out what the hell's going on.

Twitter (TWTR) will go insane.

A dark screen on CNN will pull bigger numbers than anything it's had on the air in the last five years.

And then, taking a page directly from the radio guys, run a loop for a week or two or even a month -- a loop of the same song over and over again. Or maybe the voice of James Earl Jones made to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Tease that something big is coming at this time, on this day.

That would be addressing the situation for real ... something that simply hasn't happened prior to or now that we're knee deep in the Jeff Zucker era. No more dragging the puck. Enough pulling from the same failed bag of cable television tricks (e.g., "Crossfire"). Do something that blows minds.

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