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it is known, in the lexicon of television news, as a throw or toss - an onscreen handoff from one host to another. And to Jonathan Klein, the new president of CNN, none is more critical than the throw from Larry King to Aaron Brown each weeknight just before 10.
Mr. King typically makes lavish mention of Mr. Brown - "Ladies and gentleman around the world, give him your total attention, please," he commanded one night recently - all in service of one goal: to ensure that the more than one million viewers Mr. King draws in an average hour, the most successful on CNN, might be persuaded to watch Mr. Brown's news program.
In recent years - and last month's sweeps period was no exception - nearly half of them have spurned Mr. King's advice and departed in the first few minutes.
"We invited viewers to leave repeatedly," Mr. Klein lamented one day last week. "We kept giving them no good reason to stay."
Like a football coach with a stopwatch, Mr. Klein has been seeking to overhaul how Mr. Brown takes the ball from Mr. King as part of a broader effort to increase the amount of time viewers spend watching the network's prime-time lineup. Specifically, in a ratings game that he says can be won in inches, Mr. Klein has told his staff that that he wants to increase the average amount of time viewers spend watching CNN's prime-time lineup by an average of 30 seconds a month for the next 12 months - for what would be a total gain of six minutes.
Lest there be any doubt that those six minutes are crucial, consider the following: the typical viewer who tunes in to Fox News's prime-time lineup - including the programs of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - watches for an average of 26 minutes before switching channels, according to CNN's internal research. On average, viewers tune out CNN's prime-time hosts - including Mr. Brown, Mr. King and Paula Zahn - after just 19 minutes.
That gap in average viewing time has had a profound impact on CNN's ratings: thus far this season, its average audience between 7 and 11 p.m. (775,000) is far less than Fox's during the same time period (two million) , according to Nielsen Media Research. (As recently as four years ago, CNN was drawing more viewers than Fox News at night.)
Meeting Mr. Klein's goal would have a tangible impact on the network's bottom line - a former executive at another network estimated that those extra six minutes of viewing time could add more than $10 million to CNN's annual advertising revenue, which, according to TNS Media Intelligence, was nearly $440 million. To do so, Mr. Klein will have to somehow locate a holy grail that has thus far eluded his immediate predecessors.
He is the fifth person to head CNN's domestic operations in just the last four years, and each of his predecessors is believed to have been undone, at least in part, by a failure to do better in the ratings against the seemingly unstoppable Fox juggernaut.
"In an ideal world, there probably would not be this much turnover," said Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group, to whom Mr. Klein, as president of its domestic networks, reports. "What I can assure you is Jon will be successful in this position, and he'll be in this position for many years to come."
One of Mr. Klein's mantras - a version of the same one he invoked when announcing in January that he intended to cancel the afternoon shout-fest "Crossfire" - is that the network's prime-time programs should spend less time reporting the news of the day and more time spinning out what he hopes are emotionally gripping, character-driven narratives pegged to recent events.
But he has also sought to take a page from the playbook of local television news and encourage some reporters to put more of their personalities in their reports. It is not insignificant that he is being advised in this effort by Joel Cheatwood, a former news executive in Miami and Chicago who is well known for using loud sound effects to amplify crime stories and for the failed effort to make Jerry Springer a commentator in Chicago in the late 1990's
-------------------- America's debt problem is a "sign of leadership failure"
We have "reckless fiscal policies"
America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.
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