- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

Television demographics just got a brand new term: the Timex crowd — the vast and valuable viewership of ordinary Americans looking for a straightforward news story.

It may prove the most coveted target audience of all.

CNN President Jim Walton was parsing his network’s strategies before a group of TV writers Thursday when he made an blithe comment about the Fox News Channel, which currently dominates the ratings race.

“I really don’t think Rolex cares how many watches Timex sells,” Mr. Walton said, implying that the quality of CNN’s coverage, viewership and advertising mattered more in the long run than the hard quantity of Fox’s ratings numbers.

According to Nielsen, Fox has led the field for 18 months, garnering over half the primetime cable news audience with 2.1 million nightly viewers during the first six months of the year. CNN had 1.2 million nightly viewers during the same period.

The Rolex/Timex analogy, however, captured the fancy of the press yesterday, translated as “CNN exec knocks Fox News” in the New York Daily News and “CNN head shrugs off Fox news ratings rivalry” in Reuters, among other accounts.

Fox news spokesman Robert Zimmerman offered his own acerbic observation.

“This must be the same creative accounting Jim used as president of the now-defunct CNN SI,” Mr. Zimmerman told The Washington Times yesterday, referring to a collaboration between CNN and Sports Illustrated, which ceased operations last year.

Mr. Zimmerman also categorized CNN as an “hour glass” in an interview with the New York Daily News.

Both CNN and MSNBC declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

Others believe that Mr. Walton’s reference to the watch brand was full of great portent, however.

“If CNN is looking to grow an audience, then they better be looking at the Timex crowd,” said one source who has worked in the cable news industry for a decade.

“Regular folks in fly-over territory are a huge potential audience as Fox already knows,” the source continued. “And CNN should remember that regular folks don’t wear Rolexes.”

Watches also captured the imagination of visitors to online news Web sites.

“CNN is the Mickey Mouse watch of news channels,” noted one wag at www.lucianne.com, which features a daily analysis of topics.

“CNN was the first of its kind, and it was innovative,” another visitor wrote. “However, it has fallen because it has misunderestimated the American political temperature, and started believing that it, and only it, could reflect (i.e., shape) the way we see ourselves in the world.”

Indeed, both cable and broadcast news networks have been forced into identity crisis over their coverage of America and its policies following September 11, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

Many viewers became increasingly annoyed with networks that considered patriotism and news coverage incompatible — to the point that their correspondents were prohibited from using the term “us” when referring to American troops.

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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