Jeff Zucker Interview…

The Wrap’s Jordan Chariton interviews Jeff Zucker…

And CNN’s up big: 59 percent in viewers and 62 percent in the coveted 25-54 demo during the day; 35 percent in viewers and 50 percent in the demo in primetime (Monday-Sunday).

The formula: riding the coattails of breaking news — in many cases stretching that news far beyond its natural life cycle — mixed with a heap of original series. When Zucker deployed the latter, spearheaded by Anthony Bourdain, John Walsh and Morgan Spurlock, media critics howled he was stomping the news right out of the organization most trusted for it.

You can give Zucker credit for hiring Walsh but he wasn’t part of the hiring process for Bourdain or Spurlock. That was spearheaded by Mark Whitaker under a Jim Walton CNN Worldwide. Zucker almost certainly shaped to some degree how those two integrated with CNN so we can’t say he doesn’t deserve some credit there. But media writers need to remember that CNN’s move to taped programming preceded Zucker’s arrival.

Are you concerned with pushing away longtime CNN viewers who want all the news on CNN TV?

Good question, but wrong. Because what’s actually increased at CNN is the length of tune-in of our viewers, meaning that those viewers are actually watching for a longer length of time each time they come. So, we’re not alienating those viewers; actually by giving them what they’re interested in and more of it, they’re staying longer. That criticism from media critics — it may be a media criticism — but actually has been completely the opposite for our viewers. And our viewers have actually completely responded to it, and our length of tune-in has actually increased.

That answer is a bit of a dodge on the original question. Tune-in length does not automatically equate with airing “all the news”. CNN under Zucker has gone wall to wall more often on more stories but at the expense of covering more stories. This was underscored by the return of the hated “crawl”. Read the crawl on CNN sometime. Then see how many of those stories get mentioned on CNN’s air.

In previous years, critics said CNN was stuck in the 20th century of news, without a real identity in the increasingly partisan news world. What’s your identity now?

News. New. I believe we have reestablished the brand identity that this is the place for news. When the Paris terror attacks happen, when war breaks out in Ukraine, when unrest happens in Ferguson, people know that CNN is the place to come. News is our brand, and I think we’re doing more news in the morning, we’re doing more news all day, we’re doing news. We’ve added in the last year, five hours of additional news by doing news from 12 midnight to 5 a.m., so there’s more news on the network, so that has helped. We are basically doing live news 22 out of 24 hours a day. Everyone said we were getting out of news. We doubled-down on news.

Also a bit of a dodge of the original question. The criticism, which I didn’t think was ever well founded, was that CNN wasn’t adapting to the ideological landscape by sticking with news more often than partisan hackery. Zucker says that CNN has re-established its news brand. I don’t think it ever went away to begin with. Zucker’s argument is now that the brand has been re-established people identify it with recent breaking news events. I don’t think that ever went away either. It’s just that we have had more of those types of events the past couple years than we had the previous five or six.

Furthermore, Zucker trumpets adding overnight news in the past year. What this ignores is that last year CNN added that block and then took it away after MH370 cooled off only to bring it back when news started heating up again. If the news cycle starts cooling down again I would not at all be surprised to see overnight news disappear yet again.

As your numbers go up, why has Fox and MSNBC’s numbers gone down?

Listen, we should only have Fox News’ numbers. We’d be thrilled to have Fox’s numbers, and they deserve a lot of credit. With regards to MSNBC, I can’t speak to why they’ve declined dramatically — we’re just focused on what we’re doing here now.
*CNN up 51 percent, Fox News up 5 percent in all-important primetime news demo while MSNBC is down 45 percent for 2015

Zucker is playing it smart here. He’s not engaging either FNC or MSNBC with bulletin board material.

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