Contemplating a Jeff Zucker led CNN Worldwide…
Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell makes a case for a Jeff Zucker led CNN Worldwide.
But Zucker’s failures were far more widely covered then his enormous success in leading NBC’s cable assets — a record which would be directly relevant to the CNN job. On the news side, he can be largely credited with guiding MSNBC out of the gutter and establishing it as an actual competitor to Fox and ultimately beating CNN.
Under his leadership, MSNBC and sister financial news network CNBC logged record profits and ratings unseen up to that point. Cash cow Today (which he produced and led to its dominance in the morning show wars) expanded to four hours and remained the number-one morning show until after he left. Nightly News retained its perch atop the network news shows under his guidance.
But what is often forgotten in the media is how much success he achieved with NBC Universal’s entertainment cable assets like USA, Bravo, Syfy and Oxygen — all of which became ratings leaders and increasingly profitable under his leadership. As one top media executive tells us: “He had his setbacks and made some mistakes but there is no one who understands the news business, and arguably cable, as well as Jeff Zucker.”
Fine. Except that kind of cable resume is not tailored to someone leading CNN Worldwide but someone looking to take over for Turner Broadcasting CEO Philip Kent or Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes. Kirell’s argument applies an incorrect test to measure Zucker’s suitability for running CNN Worldwide. What Zucker did with USA, Bravo, Syfy, and Oxygen carries a lot less weight to being a sutibable President of CNN Worldwide than Kirell thinks it does. What Zucker did to MSNBC, CNBC, and The Weather Channel is a lot more applicable. And Zucker’s record there is far more suspect.
It was Zucker that pushed docs onto MSNBC and turned it into the crime channel in the years before it became known as the Progressive channel. It was Zucker that let the firewall between news and opinion erode on MSNBC. It was Zucker that allowed Phil Griffin to install ideological pundits as the anchors for political news coverage. It was Zucker that diluted the Weather Channel’s brand by putting on reality TV and movies once he got his hands on the channel. Zucker intervened a lot less with CNBC but even there he let primetime turn into a taped mess…albeit a better rated taped mess. Over and over again throughout his oversight of NBC Universal’s news properties, Zucker has displayed a consistent record of eschewing brand specificity and clarity in favor of brand generalization and an “increase the ratings regardless of brand applicability” approach.
If Zucker is installed at CNN Worldwide the cost to CNN could be everything that its brand has held dear for thirty plus years. That may be CNN’s ultimate outcome regardless of whether Zucker is chosen or not. But with Zucker onboard I would fear for CNN’s soul…and I suspect a lot of CNN staffers would as well.