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Investment bankers speaking to Fox Business discussed the possibility of Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com and owner of the Washington Post, purchasing CNN.
CNN’s future is a topic among business insiders as a) CNN President Jeff Zucker’s future is unknown; b) its current strategy is built around President Donald Trump, who is trailing in most battleground states; and, c) AT&T’s purchase of TimeWarner came with tens of billions of dollars in debt.
The report says both AT&T CEO John Stankey and chairman Randall Stephenson have grown less comfortable with CNN’s controversial, left-leaning programming.
“No one at AT&T has a problem with Turner Classic Movies, but they are worried CNN angers so many Republicans in Washington,” one banker said.
Under the right circumstances, CNN would be a high-reward investment. The network is profitable and rates well in the coveted 25-54 demographic. In October, CNN again topped MSNBC in total day and primetime viewership in the demo, 361,000 to 243,000 and 709,000 to 475,000, respectively.
CNN does not compete with Fox News and MSNBC in total viewership. However, this month, its numbers were up 78% in total day and +98% in primetime.
CNN also offers a strong website and digital presence.
The network does come with question marks and concerns, however. Under Zucker, CNN’s news division went far-left and has featured some questionable figures in recent years like Andrew McCabe and Richard Spencer. Just yesterday it was revealed that the author of Anonymous is Miles Taylor, a low-ranking government bureaucrat who now works for CNN.
CNN does not have a passionate audience nor stars who draw ratings like Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, and Tucker Carlson. It also lacks a long-term identity. The only identity CNN currently has is anti-Trump. If Trump wins re-election, CNN can maintain this identity for four more years. But that’s it. If Biden wins, it’s back to the drawing board. And if Zucker bolts, the direction the next boss takes could affect the market value of the network.
Regardless of who wins Tuesday and the future of Zucker, CNN must fix or blow up its morning show, New Day. Fox & Friends — which makes well north of $100 million a year in advertising — and Morning Joe are juggernauts. New Day doesn’t compete with either in total viewers or in the demo.
Jeff Bezos, of course, makes sense as a potential buyer. With a $200 billion net worth, he can buy almost everything.
With Amazon’s muscles and what’s left of the Washington Post, Bezos would be a clear upgrade in ownership over AT&T. When news networks eventually pivot to digital broadcasting, Bezos can pair CNN with Amazon Prime, an industry leader. Thus far, AT&T’s HBO Max is a dud.
Veteran analyst Rich Greenfield also suggests ViacomCBS and Comcast as potential buyers for CNN.
ViacomCBS can’t compete financially with Bezos or Comcast. CBS’s market cap is $18 billion compared to Comcast’s $205 billion and Amazon’s roughly $2 trillion (with a T).
It’s doubtful ViacomCBS has the resources to elevate or innovate CNN. Of all news networks, CBS has always been the safest.
Comcast is a possibility, but with large investments in NBC News, MSNBC, and Peacocks’ news hub, adding CNN might become a bit too much. I expect NBC to focus on Peacock, not buy another cable news channel.
Could Bezos even buy CNN? He’d need a Joe Biden presidency and the Democrats to take the Senate. It’s unlikely to pass under a Trump administration. Trump is not a fan of Bezos, CNN, or the Washington Post.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who sits on a Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, responded to the Bezos report with a simple answer:
One word to this: No https://t.co/ykLoR1lt80
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 27, 2020
Even under Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, there could be complications. There’s a subsection of Democrats, led by AOC, that despises Big Tech, Amazon in particular.
Apple is another possible buyer. As a tech leader, Apple has the means to match even Amazon.
Follow Bobby Burack on Twitter @burackbobby_.