Cable news hopes to keep election viewers


NEW YORK -- Is Tuesday the end of the quadrennial good ratings times, or does Wednesday mark the beginning of a new period of heady times at the cable newsers?

It's been a very, very good year and a half for the cable news channels, which have seen historically strong ratings every step of this historically long Campaign 2008. Every one of them, from traditional news leader Fox News Channel to a resurgent CNN and even an MSNBC that has finally found some success in primetime, have plenty to crow about.

To CNN U.S. president Jon Klein, there's a sense of reality that the ratings after this week won't be what they have been in the months leading up to Nov. 4.

"The ratings will be down across the board," Klein said Tuesday afternoon in an interview in his office at the Time Warner Center overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park. But he thinks that there's an opening among at least some of the election viewers to convince them to stay after the election.

"After a massive story like this, of course there's going to be some erosion," Klein said. "A certain number of the audience that has been watching doesn't normally watch news."

But to Klein's way of thinking, this campaign and all that's happened isn't going to be over when the election is called. It's just the beginning.

"You've still got these burning issues," Klein said, ticking off the economy, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, health care and other hot topics that aren't solved immediately when the president is elected. He thinks that viewers -- and voters -- are going to want to keep posted on what's happening after the inauguration. Hours before the polls closed in the first states, Klein likened Election Night to an epic cliffhanger where the denouement is after the new cast takes over.

"They will have just invested a lot of emotion into their choice for president," Klein said of voters. "They're going to expect performance."

Enter CNN, where Klein has spent the better part of two years positioning not right nor left but straight down the middle. He's drilled into the heads of producers, anchors and correspondents that viewers want answers to issues, not what he thinks are talking heads from the right and the left.

"No matter who wins, there are viewers who are sick of the predictable partisan approach. This is a country that wants new analysis and information, not spin," Klein said.

Some things are going to change after the election, though. Most of the pundit and analyst contracts, not just at CNN, run through Inauguration Day. Klein wouldn't comment about what changes the network was likely to make, however.

"We'll take stock (soon) of what our needs are," Klein said.

But don't write the obituary of the term "The Best Political Team on Television," a saying that has caused some joshing among other networks. Klein said that political analyst will still be important as well as the team they're building to report on the economic issues that have become center stage lately.

"We'll continue to field the best money team on television," Klein said.