CNN sees threat from social networking sites

More competition than from other news outlets, chief says

NEW YORK -- CNN is more concerned about competition from social networks than other cable news networks, CNN U.S. president Jonathan Klein said here Wednesday.

"The competition I'm really afraid of are social networking sites," he said in a keynote interview at Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Media Summit New York. They provide "an alternative that threatens to pull people away from us."

After all, Facebook friends and Twitter members are "trusted news sources," Klein explained. "That's a challenge, and we got to rise to that challenge."

CNN is looking to be a key place people link to online as a result, he said in explaining one strategy to deal with that challenge.

Asked whether it bothers him that CNN came in third in U.S. ratings last year, Klein said those rankings are based on primetime figures, but he likes to take a broader view across day parts. For example, he argued that CNN drew 100 million viewers for all of February, which was ahead of Fox News' 91 million. CNN sells the overall reach of the network rather than one show or day part, he added.

Klein did acknowledge though that Fox News' viewers stay longer, and "we would like ours to stay longer."

But viewers and ratings are just one metric that CNN looks at.

For example, Klein argued that CNN has "hands-down the best TV journalism," is the biggest news brand internationally and is "number one by a mile in digital," both online and in mobile. "We think of ourselves as no 1," Klein summarized.

Discussing the White House, Klein said the Obama administration mishandled its attack on Fox News for being partisan, because it didn't also call out liberal MSNBC. That "made it just another type of partisan foray," he said.

Asked if 24/7 news networks remain a viable business in the digital age, he highlighted that 2009 was CNN's most profitable year ever. Judging from those results alone, it is a viable business, Klein said.

Klein on Wednesday also said he wouldn't really regard it as a major loss if broadcast networks' nightly news shows disappeared given that there are so many other sources of news in this day and age. "We can't cling to the formulas and formats of the past," he said.