This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, March 1, 2002. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: The story is Nightline staffers never saw this one coming, that the David Letterman rumor was like a bolt of lightning. Well, it really shouldn't have been. Network news ain't the draw that it used to be. I want you to take a look at this. Ratings for the signature network newscasts are down anywhere from 10 percent to 13 percent over just the last decade. It's not that people aren't interested in news, maybe just not network news.
There are three all-news channels right now. I was able to secure an exclusive interview with the chairman and CEO of the most successful of them all. My boss, Roger Ailes, he is the head of FOX News. Roger, good to see you. Thanks for coming.
ROGER AILES, CHAIRMAN & CEO, FOX NEWS: You notice the Dow is up 300.
CAVUTO: Yes, interesting timing. Let me ask you about the Nightline stuff. If true, and Nightline goes away, what does that say about network news?
AILES: I'm not sure it says a lot about network news. Since 9/11, network news has actually taken a little bit of a bounce up. But they have been losing audience since 1985 because of the all-news channels. And so, they have been relegated to packages and stories and updates and that sort of thing. The strength of the personalities of the network news, Dan and Peter and Tom, have held those things together. Ted has had a distinguished career, but, you know, Ted, I'm told, really only comes in three nights a week now. So he may not even know if they take this away for awhile.
CAVUTO: What do you do with someone like that? I mean, if all of a sudden, you are drying up opportunities, what do you do?
AILES: Ted is a distinguished newsman. He can do pretty much whatever he wants. One of the things that nobody should ever feel sorry for, a news man who has worked at the network level for at least ten years because he's rich and can pretty much do what he wants.
I would expect that CNN would take a run at him. He may want to retire. You never know.
CAVUTO: Now, what about Nightline? It's an institutional standard. I mean, if that is relegated to maybe a now and then type of show, is it the same show?
AILES: Well, it started as a special. It started as a special during the hostage crisis. And, in fact, you could argue that the war on terror is going to go on for a long time and there will be a series of specials and a place for that. But, network news, there have been too many people willing to pronounce network news dead. If it really is dead, Brian Williams is in a lot of trouble and has a lot of shirts with very stiff collars and he doesn't have any place to wear them.
So, I think there will be some network news for a long time. And maybe a show like Nightline — you can't put all comedy — there aren't that many funny people for late night. Leno and Letterman have been fighting it out for years. Letterman first attacked NBC when he was there. Now, he's attacking CBS. And it's time to move back to ABC.
CAVUTO: But think about it, if Bill Maher goes along with this package and he is out there too, is part of that an indictment against his stinging comments, post-9/11, or is it just, look, you guys aren't working together?
AILES: Look, in the end, this is all about ratings and demographics. And comedy and I think Letterman probably gets 30 percent younger demographics than a Nightline show.
CAVUTO: That's the draw, isn't it?
AILES: News viewers tend to be older in America, not nearly as young as me and you. So they tend to be older and I think it's about demographics and the future. And every network is trying to figure out how to make money going forward. The financial model is not a very attractive one today.
CAVUTO: Well, let me ask you about the financial model for these. I'm not sure these numbers are exactly right, Roger. You probably know better than I. But Nightline, for a 30-second spot, guarantees anywhere from $45,000 to $50, 000. Leno and Letterman, $90,000 to $100,000. That's the math right there, isn't it?
AILES: That would do it. I mean, that alone would do it. You might have fewer people working on a news show, but these networks have huge news divisions they have to support and very few outlets. You know, they do a half-hour in the evening and they do Koppel, they do specials. But most of the revenue in news today is from the Today show, Dateline, the magazine shows.
So this is really about making money. And if they can make more money and get a younger demo by going to comedy, I'd be surprised if they didn't do it. And to be honest with you, a 22-year run on a show like Nightline that was an accidental show to start with is a really good run. Ted should be very proud of it and ABC has done a great job. But these are business decisions today, unfortunately.
CAVUTO: Is the business way, though, the mentality going that entertainment, comedy or whatever commands those type of dollars, that is the way the networks are really going to want to go?
AILES: It is, although to be honest with you, there are not that many funny people around. I mean, I don't know whether you've noticed it, but, I mean, there are a lot of outlets and not a lot of great performers. There are a lot of people who think they can do it, and there are very few who really make it to the top. And so, every year, probably 90 percent of the new shows that are tried fail.
CAVUTO: For the three news networks there, apparently, I just heard there are two others besides FOX, right? Now what does the future look like? Can you still have three, active, viable news services?
AILES: Yes, you can. There's a growing appetite for news and there's a whole younger audience, many of them watching the Internet, but they are becoming attracted to news. And a byproduct of 9/11 was that people became more interested in news, probably more interested in world news.
And if the numbers of the Dow today are correct, the advertising dollars are going to start to come back in this area. People will spend more money and I think certainly there's room for three.
CAVUTO: How much of Nightline, and maybe Bill Maher and his problems of ABC, were the problem of not getting maybe fair and balanced, something you are keen on?
AILES: Well, if you take any national poll, the American people will tell you they don't think the news is all that fair and balanced. They seem to think we are and we are doing quite well because of it. I really believe that is it. In the end, the consumer decides and they will watch what they want to watch because they believe in it.
CAVUTO: Yes. So it's true. This network is not about Bill O'Reilly. It's really about me, right?
AILES: Well, it's about both of you guys. No question about it. And Bill says it's about him, you say it's about you...
CAVUTO: And you just run with it.
AILES: That's right. It's all right with me. You guys are both doing great.
CAVUTO: Thank you, Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of FOX News.
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