CNNfn to Go Dark in Dec.

Citing the disappointing growth of digital channels, Cable News Network is pulling the plug on its long-lagging spinoff service, CNNfn, effective mid-December, officials said Thursday.

The move means that CNNfn’s current distribution, 30 million subscribers, will essentially be up for grabs, although Turner Broadcasting System Inc. is currently in the process of talking with distributors about using that real estate for some of the programmer’s other services, such as CNN International, TNT HD and Boomerang.

“We’re in discussions with the operators for that channel space,” CNN News Group president Jim Walton said during a conference call with the press Thursday.

CNNfn’s major distributors are Time Warner Cable, DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

Walton announced the plan to shut down CNNfn in an e-mail to CNN employees.

“In the digital distribution of linear networks, the growth has not come at the rate many of us had anticipated,” he later told reporters.

Rather than maintaining CNNfn as a linear TV network, CNN News Group will migrate its business-news programming to its fully distributed services, CNN and CNN Headline News, as well as offering it on new platforms, such as video-on-demand, subscription-VOD and broadband, Walton said.

“You’ll be seeing some product evolve over us in the next three to eight months,” he added.

Of the 110 full-time staffers at CNNfn, which launched in 1995, many will be able to just stay on to work on shows like Open House and Dolans Unscripted, which will migrate to either CNN or Headline News. But 60 will be impacted, according to Walton.

CNN has just posted 100 new job openings, and Walton expects many of the 60 to be able to take some of those slots rather than being laid off.

“It is our hope that most of, if not all of, the impacted employees at CNNfn will have a skill set that matches up, and they will apply for these jobs, and we will be able to position them across the News Group,” he added.

Those who do leave will be given severance packages of “two weeks, plus two weeks pay for every year they worked,” according to Walton.

Ken Jautz, executive vice president and general manager of CNNfn, will remain to oversee CNN’s business-news programming. Under Jautz’s tenure, in 2003, CNNfn actually turned a profit, Walton said.

“It’s a great success story for them,” Walton said. “However, as we look at the marketplace, and where the industries are going -- new technologies, and how they impact us -- we came to the conclusion that we would have more potential for growth in going some different ways.”

In terms of CNNfn’s current 30 million homes, Walton pointed out that CNN International’s feed is now carried on CNNfn on weekends and at night. He noted that distributors could opt to carry that international network 24/7 on CNNfn’s channel slot.

“International programming is an important component, international news programming … and we feel that many of the operators might like to have more international programming going forward,” he added. “That’s one possibility.”

CNN’s plans also call for adding long-form programming to Headline News’ primetime lineup next year, Walton said.

“We’re going to try to create some programs that are going to generate viewer interest and appointment viewing,” he added.

News Corp., parent of Fox News Channel, has said that it is planning to create a financial-news channel, and the demise of CNNfn may speed that effort.

But CNBC has been in the ratings doldrums, which, some said, doesn’t bode well for the prospects for financial-news programming.