Jeff Zucker to ESPN?

Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva writes that Jeff Zucker has been in talks with Disney about possibly taking over ESPN…

Reps at Disney could not be reached for comment, but multiple sources close to Zucker confirmed to Deadline that he has had conversations for the top job at the sports giant. I hear he met with Disney chairman and chief executive officer Bob Iger last week in New York.


Zucker, whose current CNN contract I hear is up at the end of the year, is an intriguing proposition. He has a higher profile than any of the other potential candidates. He was able to reverse CNN’s linear ratings declines even before the Donald Trump-fueled political coverage ratings bonanza. He also successfully built the cable news network’s digital brand, overseeing a big online expansion.

Those are things Disney wants to see ESPN achieve. The network’s ratings woes have been dragging down Disney’s stock price as the sports net has been shedding linear subscribers. Disney also has been looking to better monetize ESPN and its programming in a multi-platform universe, including via a recently announced ESPN-branded OTT service.

I agree with part of Andreeva’s retrospective of Zucker’s “accomplishments”. He did make a huge push into digital for CNN…the success of which is still to ultimately be judged. But don’t give him too many props for “fixing” CNN’s ratings. He never got CNN close to striking distance of FNC and though he did push CNN above MSNBC…that had as much, if not more, to do with MSNBC’s crashing and burning on its own than it did with anything Zucker did…a point reinforced by the NBC cable network’s rebound in the ratings.

I would also be remiss in not noting one of the things Zucker did over the air was basically kill CNN’s news brand. He pushed (exiled?) the bulk of the news, even major world news, to the digital platform. Under Jeff Zucker, CNN stopped being the cable network to turn to for straight news and became the network for watercooler news.

All of which makes his hiring by ESPN all the more questionable because ESPN’s problem is eroding viewership. Driving people to digital for sports won’t solve that problem. You don’t want to move your biggest sports assets to digital…right now you’ll lose out on that deal because there aren’t enough out there to make up for what you lose by cutting off cable distribution. Ultimately at some point that will change and digital will become to dominant distribution channel. But we are still years from that point.

In addition to spearheading CNN’s ratings resurgence, Zucker has been able to grow a slew of media stars, turning Don Lemon, Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo into household names.

Oh please. None of these guys are household names. I love me some Tapper but even he isn’t a household name. And Zucker didn’t “grow” any of these guys. Lemon became “famous”, if you want to use that term, all on his own because of his gaffes. Tapper had a rep before he even got to CNN and that hasn’t changed since he’s been there. I see very little of Zucker’s imprint on Cuomo. And as long as we’re talking about profiles, what the hell has happened to Anderson Cooper since Zucker arrived? He went from being CNN’s go to, bounce around the country/world, news star to being a low profile desk jockey. Maybe that’s partly Cooper’s own doing/choice…but you can draw a dividing line between Anderson Cooper pre-Jeff Zucker and Anderson Cooper post-Jeff Zucker.

Update: CNN’s Brian Stelter, completely and irrevocably entangled in conflict of interest mode for this story for as long as it plays out, along with the similarly ensnared Dylan Byers note that CNN is denying the that Zucker is interested.

In response to questions, CNN spokeswoman Allison Gollust said, “Jeff loves his job at CNN, and has no interest in running ESPN.”

They also note that Andreeva updated her original story to remove the Iger sentence…

Deadline’s story, written by Nellie Andreeva, initially said “I hear that he met with Disney chairman and chief executive officer Bob Iger last week.” But that sentence was later cut from the story. Multiple sources denied to CNN that there’s been any in-person meeting between Zucker and Iger.

12 Responses to “Jeff Zucker to ESPN?”

  1. OK…..I admit I hate what hes done to CNN which I doubt will ever recover…..but on what planet does somebody even think “let hire the guy running the 3rd place news network in a 3 way race”?

    and how does that guy not get fired?

  2. […] Zucker killed CNN’s brand, exiling news to online […]

  3. Tom Bennett Says:

    Is it true that CNN’s ratings are up…just not as much as MSNBC’s and Fox News’…with a H/T to coverage of Trump’s seemingly endless controversies?

    Been a long day on the home front and I’m too lazy to do a Google search. (I need a senior nap.)

    I do recall they had record profits in 2016 — but I don’t know about 2017.

  4. Tom Bennett Says:

    Okay…I guess I lied. 🙂

    I did find this one ‘hit’ in five seconds.

    “Turner’s Martin: CNN to score ‘record’ profit of $1B in 2016”

  5. Tom Bennett Says:

    “Under Jeff Zucker, CNN stopped being the cable network to turn to for straight news and became the network for watercooler news.”

    I’ve never understood the cries for straight news over panel shows like AC360 or discussion shows like Tucker, Maddow, The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity.

    Most people can get there news online, doncha think?

    Which really doesn’t change all that much from one hour to the next throughout the day. But when it does change (with the exception of huge breaking news like hurricaines and mass shootings) simply go to Fox News’ or MSNBC’s or CNN’s website where updates exist including many videos.


  6. Tapper was already a thing at ABC, Lemon has been around forever and most people think Chris Cuomo is the governor of New York. Zucker’s biggest accomplishment is making Kayleigh McEnaney – who was barely functional in the leg chair on Red Eye – a star. So yay for him.

  7. Doesnt change the fact that under his leadership CNN had gone from 2nd to a low 3rd and HLN has died a slow very painful death.

  8. Tom Bennett Says:

    “Doesn’t change the fact that under his leadership CNN had gone from 2nd to a low 3rd…”

    You’re correct.

    There’s no way to spin it.

    The bigger story is MSNBC’s growth.

    “MSNBC Has Best Year Ever”

    Your assessment of CNN is unduly negative.

    For 2017 Fox News was on top in both primetime and total day viewership, but CNN also posted its highest ratings on record in total day in the demo and total viewers for the year. In primtime, CNN had its second most watched year since 2008.

  9. Tom Bennett Says:

    Let’s not let our personal aversion to CNN affect our objectivity in assessing where they are.

    MSNBC having record setting growth does not negate the fact that CNN had very good profit and posted its highest ratings on record in some important categories.

  10. So what you are saying is CNN posted its highest ratings on record in total day in the demo and total viewers for the year. and had its second most watched year since 2008……..and still came in 3rd place in a 3 way race…….. right?

    MSNBC had it best year EVER……and still lost to Fox News…..yea thats something to brag about……who looks for a boss who took there company from 2 to 3rd place in a 3 way race?..LOL.

  11. Tom Bennett Says:

    Yes, the Auburn Tigers can have a fine year beating — not one — but two #1 ranked teams for the 1st time ever and still have a worse year than the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

    You need to make a comparison to a college football team’s or a TV channel’s own past as well as their competition.

    To do otherwise my friend shows bias — whether or not it was intentional.

    Let’s be objective and cite both the good and the bad.

  12. Except everything is moving to digital. CBS is debuting its most popular shows on CBS All Access. Disney is going to launch two streaming services and push much of their content there. Netflix is a giant now. And CBS has an all-digital news network. And that’s just a small part of everything.

    Digital and streaming media is the future, even if I think it’ll be extremely expensive in the long run.

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