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Strategy - BLOG

The Future of News

Miklos Sarvary, Carson Family Professor of Business at Columbia Business School |

The diminishing pool of unbiased news networks should stick to what they do best.

Jeff Zucker, appointed a year ago to lead CNN has not yet turned the company around, yet. A recent article in The Economist describes how the international news provider is trying to turn itself into more of an entertainment outlet. The rational is simple. CNN has an unbiased stance (see earlier article) and this does not go well with increasingly polarised audiences.

It is well-documented that biased viewers want to see biased news rather than impartial reporting as they really look for 'entertainment' instead of information. One option would be to become biased but competition is harsh in either corner of biased news providers with Fox and MSNBC firmly dominating Right and Left respectively. Also, CNN has the highest quality infrastructure for generating news - wouldn't it be a waste not to build on this strength? Mr. Zucker seems to have chosen another way to entertain: showing people non-news content, essentially turning CNN into a 'movie channel'. But this doesn't leverage the unique assets either and it is hard to argue that there is no competition among movie channels. Is there a way to compete with the truth at all?

(Source: The Economist)

I always argued that there is. What people need is debates! Contests! A good fight is always entertaining as long as one's side is represented. Why not organise debates to inform and interpret the news? Think of presidential debates - they are always very popular. Other examples abound, prominent among them being the very successful Munk Debates venture.

This approach is hard to copy for a biased provider who cannot deliver a consistent biased outcome for lack of serious opponents willing to debate on the opposite side. Would a team play in a game that is rigged from the start against it? Providing neutral ground and good information to back-up arguments (e.g. acting as a referee) is a unique capability that only CNN could provide. It would build on its assets and would be hard to replicate by competitors.


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