CBS and CNN Talk Partnership: Why It Could Be Different This Time

CBS and CNN have spoken about teaming up before, but this time it might actually happen.
CBS and CNN have spoken about teaming up before, but this time it might actually happen.

Seldom does a few months go by without a report that CNN (TWX) is in discussion to merge or otherwise link up with either CBS (CBS) or ABC (DIS), the two big broadcast networks that don't have a cable news arm. The dance partner du jour is CBS, which is in "advanced negotiations about signing a news-gathering partnership" with the original 24-hour news channel, according to New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman.

"Advanced" as they may be, a grain of salt is the appropriate seasoning here: The last time this subject came up, CBS chairman Les Moonves revealed that his company had had "five different discussions" about a team-up with CNN, only to conclude each time that it was "unmanageable."

Grand Finale?

But there are reasons to think the tune might have a different ending this time. As Sherman notes, there already appears to be something of a natural fit in terms of talent: CNN's Anderson Cooper is a contributor to 60 Minutes, while Katie Couric is considered a prime candidate to replace Larry King when contract as anchor of CBS Evening News expires next year. A partnership would allow both entities to make use of each other's stars without letting them go.

Another factor to consider is CNN's ongoing decline. In the past, CNN has been able to negotiate from a place of strength. As of 2002, it was seeking a joint venture, with either CBS or ABC, over which it would have two-thirds control. But that was before CNN fell to third place in prime time behind MSNBC.

In the network's disastrous first quarter, its marquee shows all suffered steep double-digit percentage drops in the Nielsen ratings. Could the ratings have convinced Time Warner's management to take a more accommodating negotiating stance to avoid the possibility of bargaining with even less leverage in another year or two?