CNN and CBS, two suitors with a long history of courtship, have engaged in direct talks in recent weeks about more extensive combinations of their news resources, according to several executives who have been briefed on the discussions.
CBS’s newscast, once the home of Walter Cronkite, has been stuck in last place in the evening news competition for 12 years. Its morning program, “The Early Show,” also perennially trails NBC and ABC. The high cost of news gathering has driven all the networks (most recently, ABC) to institute significant staff cuts. CNN, meanwhile, has continued to hire new staff members.
CBS could presumably realize considerable cost savings if a deal enabled the network to rely on more of CNN’s extensive news-gathering resources.
The current talks — first reported on Tuesday on the Web site of New York magazine — follow closely on a recent $10.8 billion deal between CBS Sports and Turner Sports, another arm of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner . That deal created a partnership to share the future rights to the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament.
In what several executives noted was the logical connection between the sports and news talks, Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, is also the president of CBS News.
Senior CBS executives, including Mr. McManus and Leslie Moonves, the CBS chief, declined to comment about any continuing talks with CNN. But other people with knowledge of the situation said that discussions between the two companies about pooling news resources were rekindled in recent weeks, though they emphasized that no deal was imminent. None of these people would be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the deal. CNN has also faced its own ratings issues recently. While still consistently profitable (it has reported rising earnings for six years in row), many of the news channel’s signature programs have suffered steep declines in ratings in the last year.
In April, among the viewers most sought by television news advertisers — those between the ages of 25 and 54 — CNN finished fourth and last in prime time among news networks, behind Fox News, MSNBC and its own sister network, HLN. Ratings of some of CNN’s most recognizable hosts, including Anderson Cooper and Larry King, have tumbled by more than 30 percent.
CBS and CNN have a history of cooperation: the CNN correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Mr. Cooper have both provided occasional reports for the CBS flagship news program, “60 Minutes.” (Mr. Cooper is on the show’s roster of correspondents.)
CBS and Time Warner are partners in several other areas of the television business. They co-own the part-time broadcast network CW (the C is for CBS, the W is for Warner), and the Warner Brothers television studio supplies CBS with a host of its top-rated prime-time shows, including its two biggest comedy hits, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” as well as dramas like “The Mentalist.”
But several executives cautioned that a full-fledged merger of CBS News and CNN would be difficult to consummate for several reasons. First, there would be problems involving union contracts: CBS’s news division is unionized; CNN’s is not. Contracts for on-the-air employees would also probably have to be renegotiated.
And the issue that has derailed previous efforts for both CBS and ABC to unite with CNN would still have to be resolved: Which company would have editorial control over the news programming?
In any kind of future combination, it is expected that “60 Minutes” would be separated and would operate as an independent unit, several executives said.
But a deeper pooling of the staffs could be expected to provide new opportunities for collaboration between the organizations. In one example cited on Tuesday by one person who discussed the potential of an expanded partnership, the CBS anchor Katie Couric could cross over from the network to CNN to continue coverage of a developing story.
For example, after Ms. Couric covered President Obama’s comments on the Times Square bombing suspect for about five minutes on Tuesday, she could have switched over to CNN to continue coverage, one executive said.
Such an arrangement might have appeal for Ms. Couric, whose contract with CBS expires next year.
At a presentation for advertisers last month, the CNN/U.S. president Jonathan Klein praised his channel, saying, “Our journalism is the currency of the national conversation.” But he added, “We’ll continue to evolve our news-gathering and programming approaches.”
CBS will most likely face questions about a possible partnership when it reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday.
Brian Stelter contributed reporting.