CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton to Step Down

Jim Walton CNN - P 2012
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Jim Walton CNN - P 2012

After months of faltering ratings at CNN marked by a 21-year low for the second quarter, the longtime cable news chief announces that he'll exit his post at the end of the year.

After months of foundering ratings at CNN, Jim Walton, the longtime and well-liked president of CNN Worldwide, announced Friday that he will step down at the end of the year when his contract expires.

Walton made the announcement in an e-mail to CNN staffers. 

“CNN needs new thinking,” Walton wrote. “That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through. And I’m ready for a change. I have interests to explore, and I want to give myself time to do it.”

CNN hit a 21-year low in total viewers and in news’ target demographic of viewers 25-to-54 during the second-quarter ratings period that ended in June.

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The primetime lineup of Anderson Cooper 360 and Piers Morgan, specifically, saw big drops during the prime 8-10 p.m. hours that have averages down to 446,000 total viewers and a mere 129,000 with adults 25-54. Those numbers mark 35 and 41 percent drops from the second quarter in 2011. Daily ratings stumbled to their lowest in more than a decade (2001), with 319,000 the average total viewers and 129,000 adults 25-54 -- 35 and 45 percent drops, respectively. In individual primetime broadcasts, Anderson Cooper's 8 p.m. outing was down 23 percent in the demo. Piers Morgan took a steeper drop of 33 percent in adults 25-54. Among the other cable networks, MSNBC and Fox News Channel also were down in primetime, though by significantly smaller margins. FNC held 1.79 million viewers (254,000 in the demo), while MSNBC had 689,000 total viewers and 217,000 in adults 25-54. 

Walton, Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent and Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes have been outspoken about their dissatisfaction with the once-dominant cable news network’s precipitous slide.

In his own statement Friday, Kent noted that Walton’s “vision has modernized and globalized our legacy news brand, enhanced CNN’s journalistic standing, positioned it at the forefront of multiplatform branded news content and challenged the organization to think bigger, reach further and do better.”

Bewkes also praised Walton’s financial prowess. “When [Walton] assumed the presidency of CNN in 2003, it was underperforming and earnings were in serious decline,” said Bewkes. “Since then, he and CNN have tripled earnings, doubled margin and delivered annual growth of 15 percent. In his nearly 31 years of uninterrupted and distinguished service to CNN, Jim has been instrumental in growing the business into the financial powerhouse it has become, while establishing the brand as the worldwide leader for television news.”