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CNN Ponders Extending NewsNight

Will CNN stay live at 11 p.m.? Network executives are expected to decide within two weeks whether to make its two-hour "special edition" of NewsNight a permanent feature on its schedule.

NewsNight has been a one-hour show anchored by Aaron Brown at 10 p.m. ET. It was followed by a repeat of Lou Dobbs Tonight at 11 p.m., giving it a better shot at snagging West Coast viewers who miss its original run at 6 p.m. (3 p.m. PT).

But after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast and offered a rush of compelling news, CNN kept NewsNight live for another hour and paired Brown with increasingly popular anchor Anderson Cooper. The move has so far been successful: CNN’s total audience in the 11 p.m. ET slot is up 49% in total viewers and 40% in the important 25-54 demo.

Network insiders say the question is in large part a financial one: Extending NewsNight means displacing a repeat of Dobbs, CNN’s most lucrative show. The rich demographics attracted by Dobbs allow CNN to charge ad rates that are much higher than normal.

Dobbs draws an audience of older, upscale men, which is particularly attractive to financial, travel and car advertisers. Ad executives say commercials during Dobbs generate $18-$19 per thousand viewers in the news demo during its 6 p.m. run. Cost per thousand (CPM) during the 11 p.m. repeat is approximately $15. That’s far more than the $10 typical for other CNN dayparts.

A CNN spokeswoman says, "NewsNight is doing well, but we haven’t made any decision."

The NewsNight decision is part of CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein’s short-term plan to strengthen CNN’s fringe hours. Last week, Klein cancelled early-morning news show Daybreak, 5-7 a.m., filling the second of those hours by expanding American Morning, currently running 7-10 a.m. Over the summer, Klein spent much of his time developing afternoon show The Situation Room.

He believes that shoring up other dayparts will help the network battle Fox News Channel in prime time.