Larry King – Talk Legend or Obsolete Dinosaur?

My business coach, Victor Cheng, wrote the following summation regarding talk show host Larry King’s retirement. Victor’s wrap-up shows that your relevance level is determined by your customer base. Period. Find out more about Victor at the end of this post.
Larry King is “retiring” – which is code for he has been forced
to retire.
The legend of talk television has suffered several years of bad
ratings and the powers that be have decided that it’s time for
him to hang up his hat.
The big debate amongst media pundits is 1) who will replace him
at CNN, and 2) should CNN even bother to replace him.
I mention this story because it is precisely this kind of
dilemma that many business owners face.
Here is the gist of the problem.
Larry King’s unbiased, politically neutral, approach to
interviewing guests during prime time just does not attract
viewership and ratings. And in the media business, no ratings =
no revenues.
What’s useful to keep in mind is that Larry King himself has not
changed that much. He’s still sharp, witty, charming, etc..
What has changed is the viewing audience.
If you look at prime time talk show ratings, what “sells” are
talk shows led by hosts that are extremely liberal or extremely
Now you could argue that CNN’s core expertise of neutral
reporting is better for the American public that say Fox’s right
wing slant or MSNBC’s left wing slant.
But the ratings show, viewers during prime time don’t want
neutral politics. They want heavily biased politics. It is what
the market wants.
As a ceo coach, I constantly reinforce the following message to
my clients:
“Your opinion is interesting but not relevant.”
Trust me this is not what many successful, highly accomplished
entrepreneurs want to hear from their executive coach.
The only opinion that matters is the opinion of the customer.
And in the media business, there are two “customers” – viewers
and advertisers.
All else being equal, advertisers only want to advertise on
shows with viewers. Prime time viewers just don’t want to watch
Larry King (and presumably anyone like him).
The problem is CNN doesn’t know how to be wildly biased to the
left or right. They’ve been doing neutral reporting for decades.
They are extremely good at it. But it no longer sells.
So what should CNN do in this case?
This is not an easy question to answer.
The short answer is they need to change from their current
strategy. It’s very clear its not working.
The wrong answer is to stay the course and watch ratings slide
even further.
From a practical standpoint, since CNN is not good at highly
partisan programming, they should start small and experiment
with a variety of approaches to figure out what’s going to work.
I call this “cracking the code” in the marketplace – the act of
finding the right combination of customer and offering that
really just clicks.
If it were me, I would have launched several efforts at more
partisan programming in low viewership time slots — a place to
experiment, take some risks, and find a model that works.
It would have been to have started this process a few years ago.
Now the whole world is watching and CNN doesn’t have a proven
winner (even in lower profile time slot) to field in Larrry
King’s place.
CNN has some catching up to do.
In your business, you need to be brutally honest with yourself.
Are you selling something that your customers fundamentally no
longer want to buy?
If you are, you’d better stop and find something else to sell
Thriving in a recession is matter of a few simple principles (in
this case, sell what customers want to buy). Yet many business
owners let pride, ego, security, and fear get in the way of
making the tough call.
Victor Cheng is revenue growth adviser to owners of professional services
and online business within $1 million – $25 million in sales.
As a former McKinsey consultant and the author of four books, he has
been featured as an expert commentator by Fox, Time magazine,
Inc magazine, Fortune Small Business, and The Wall Street Journal.
He publishes an email newsletter on revenue growth for
owners of high growth business.
To subscribe to Victor Cheng’s E-Letter please visit:

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