Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo believes the American TV viewing market is ready for a program that doesn’t pick a side before reading the news. Not everyone is convinced, but that hasn’t stopped CNN from launching “Cuomo Prime Time,” a new program billed as the nightly talk program for “independent thinkers who want their preconceptions tested …”

Critics wonder if there’s a large enough audience out there currently waiting for such a show, a very real challenge in today’s consumer news marketplace. Cuomo’s messaging will need to be both attractive enough to grab attention and compelling enough to get people to click away from programs they know and love, or news channels that give them what they want to hear.

Cuomo, apparently, isn’t fretting about the challenge. He’s diving right into the storm, with CNN placing his program in the same 9 p.m. slot occupied by Fox’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. These two veteran anchors both evoke strong emotional reactions in the TV viewer base, are considered heroes to their fans and villains to their detractors.

Cuomo, comparably, is a known name, but not necessarily a known quantity. And, based on the numbers, he has a tough hill to climb. On average, Hannity draws about 3.1 million viewers, while Maddow gets 2.6 million. By contrast, CNN in the same time slot has about 846,000 viewers. That reality presents a series of challenges for the anchor and his eponymous program. First, he has to get a message out to people who simply aren’t listening. Most cable news viewers who regularly tune into Hannity or Maddow have found a home. They don’t want to leave and they see no reason to switch. They’re not looking for an alternative.

Cuomo, apparently, is hoping to grab the attention of the millions of TV viewers who aren’t watching either Hannity or Maddow: the political centrists and others who are tired of “one side” versus “the other” from both camps. The question, though, is are these folks looking for a program to watch? That’s a question Cuomo’s camp will have to answer.

According to Cuomo, that reason will never be to “incite the partisans.” Instead, he promises to “…play against the partisan perspective… question what people are telling you to think …”

That’s an interesting take, but he needs to offer more than that. A vision for what TV news talk can be, as well as a siren song for disaffected consumers tired of politics as usual. Is that market out there? According to the polls it’s not only out there, it’s the silent majority. But, unless Cuomo’s communications team can capture their attention, get them to listen, and keep them around, CNN will continue to struggle to compete in that difficult 9 p.m. time slot.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm.