Comcast Corp. officials told CN8 employees today that they would radically restructure the cable network that has struggled with terrible ratings and a bad local advertising market.
The network, conceived in 1996 to produce sophisticated local programming for the cable giant, reaches eight million homes. But despite 71 Mid-Atlantic Emmys for sports programming, long-form interviews, and shows by hosts such as Lynn Doyle and Art Fennell, CN8 had trouble finding an audience. At its best, CN8's Nielsen rating in the Philadelphia market was typically about 0.2 - fewer than 6,000 households, out of 2.8 million.
A majority of the 300 employees at CN8, which operates out of Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, will be laid off, although some could be offered other jobs at Comcast, a Comcast official said. The channel will be rebranded "the Comcast Network" in Philadelphia and Washington, the Comcast official said.
Doyle, who is host of the nightly It's Your Call show, last night said that she had been assured that she would continue to have a prominent role at the network.
A Comcast official said a Sunday evening program with Larry Kane, Voice of Reason, will remain, as will Roll Call in Washington, hosted by Robert Traynham, a partnership with the influential political newspaper.
The network will retain its channel position in the cable lineup, but switch to a digital format in early 2009. CN8 will go dark in Boston, where Comcast has a partial ownership interest in New England Cable News.
Spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said Comcast was considering future programming plans for the Comcast Network. The network, previously part of the company's huge eastern cable division, will report to Comcast SportsNet.
"This restructuring will strengthen the network's focus on providing credible, informative and relevant local public affairs and sports content of interest to viewers in the Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Washington/Baltimore regions while continuing to feature some of CN8's signature personalities," Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
"We will discontinue operations in markets where Comcast has other locally focused programming, or where CN8 has had a minimal presence," he said.
CN8 was founded as the Comcast Network, Comcast's Mid-Atlantic-based, regional-affairs and local-sports channel, by Michael Doyle, husband of Lynn Doyle and then president of Comcast's eastern division. Michael Doyle resigned from Comcast earlier this year.
In 2003, Kane joined Comcast's CN8 News as a consultant. His mission was to oversee the planned expansion of CN8's news from 10 to 25 hours a week.
In 2003, CN8 expanded to 2.2 million homes in New England and opened a studio in Boston. The station gave up its news shows in 2006.
CN8's audience has been minuscule, even though many Comcast cable boxes tune to the channel automatically when switched on.