These could be few of the critical weeks at CNN v Jeff Zucker at the helm. And true to form, they space noisy.

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“This is violence that has actually been influenced by chairman Trump, by chairman Trump’s supporters,” claimed Jake Tapper, speaking critical week throughout CNN’s breaking-news coverage of insurrectionists piling right into the U.S. Capitol in a bid to squelch certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win. “It is a disgraceful minute in American history.”

No-holds-barred reportage has actually been given an ext of a spotlight in the Zucker era, but there are comes to his time may be nearing one end. A Zucker bye is a genuine possibility, according to four civilization familiar through the matter, spurring no little amount of hand-wringing in ~ the AT&T-owned news stalwart. The executive has indicated he’s unsure if he wants to continue much longer, these people say, citing his eight years managing the outlet during one the the many intense news cycles in recent memory.

Zucker has actually been wait for the consequences of the 2020 presidential choice to settle so he have the right to devote some thought to the situation, according to one of these individuals. That is intended to make his choice known at some time this month, 2 of castle say, and also does not feel any kind of pressure to leave the company.

After any kind of U.S. Election, a turoulend news cycle generally starts come quiet down, however life at CNN has actually not. Together the concern of Zucker’s fate hangs open, CNN is enjoying a moment of sorts: vital surges in post-election viewership the it has got by following countless of Zucker’s strategies. CNN has in current weeks relocated to the height of the ratings in the demographic most coveted by advertisers — people in between 25 and 54 — amongst its cable news competitors. Because the election, CNN has actually led in the metric for 61 consecutive days, the longest win streak in 21 years. Fox News has typically maintained its lead in complete viewers in primetime. ~ above Monday and also Tuesday nights, however, CNN and MSNBC programs won more audience in many prime slots. ~ above Jan. 6, CNN notched another surprising milestone: its coverage of the Capitol insurrection spurred the best viewing day in the network’s history.

Even CNN’s coverage of new Year’s night — no its newsiest moment — outmatched the of its cable news rivals by significant margins.

Other parts of the network’s Zucker-orchestrated organization are likewise showing mettle. CNN in early on 2021 plans to unveil a documentary in i beg your pardon filmmakers have accessibility to the plenty of pharmaceutical teams that helped construct coronavirus vaccines, part of the network’s ongoing initiative to develop movies and series with a programming unit committed to nonfiction storytelling. A new series starring actor Stanley Tucci sampling the cook of Italy is slated to debut in February, CNN’s an initial attempt at launching a culinary journalism series since the fatality of Anthony Bourdain in 2018. And CNN anchor Kate Bolduan recently took come the air through a customized optimal that bore the slogan “Facts First,” the latest example of the more aggressive placing CNN — i beg your pardon throws off much more than $1 exchange rate in profit every year — has embraced since Zucker became chief.


Dozens that anchors, correspondents and also producers — many of who have come to be household names during their boss’s tenure — want to know his next steps. Agents have actually received calls indigenous CNN clients asking what a Zucker exit might mean for them. Executives in ~ WarnerMedia, which has seen a parade the departures the the an elderly executives in place prior to AT&T purchase the agency in 2018 for more than $85 billion, could be curious together well.

At a time of good flux in the media industry, CNN may be one of the couple of sure points WarnerMedia has. The parent firm has in recent months placed most of its emphasis on the start of the streaming-video hub HBO Max. And also while every timeless media conglomerate is moving full-bore into streaming, each still demands the revenue created by straight TV to remain intact. As much more people watch your scripted favorite on demand, news and sports will have to carry more of the load of gathering large live crowds to every screens.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar has actually in recent weeks argued he’d like Zucker to remain. “The two finest things that ever happened to CNN were Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker,” Kilar stated at a range event.

CNN’s inert comes together its rivals grapple with unique issues. MSNBC, component of NBCUniversal, is in transition, v a new president, Rashida Jones, supposed to take over from longtime chief Phil Griffin in weeks to come. Jones has actually won accolades for she finesse through special reports and also town halls, but it is Griffin who grew relationships with peak network characters like Rachel Maddow and Joe Scarborough.

Fox News Channel, meanwhile, take it some warmth after the choice from the far-right section of that is audience and Trump supporters. These viewers were aghast the Fox News’ Decision desk called Arizona because that President-elect Biden on choice night — days in breakthrough of various other outlets — and also in recent weeks, some shows on Newsmax, a smaller competitor, have seen viewership rise. No one of that, however, preserved the Fox Corp.-backed outlet from transporting its largest average audience in 2020.


CNN won’t be immune from obstacles in months to come. Together WarnerMedia has focused on streaming, so as well will CNN, follow to a person acquainted with the matter. Under Zucker, the company has experimented with new forms of video clip news, including an initiative by YouTube influencer Casey Neistat and another called an excellent Big Story, a hub that short, newsy videos focused on topics varying from Humboldt penguins to the creator that a cartoon character for grain ads. Both to be shut down. In 2017, CNN executives indicated they to be mulling subscription-based commodities that would provide customers access to content built around specific personalities. But the network has yet to reveal details the a concrete next step.

Other an important dynamics will be in motion. The year ~ a presidential election have the right to be a complicated one because that cable news outlets, which often see ratings decline as viewers gravitate to other spectacles. CNN is projected to watch shortfalls in both advertising and distribution revenue, follow to Kagan, a market-research firm that is component of S&P global Market Intelligence. CNN’s affiliate fees are estimate to fall 5% in 2021, to $953.7 million from much more than $1 billion critical year. Advertisement revenue is projected to dip 16% to $600.6 million in 2021, compared with $715.4 million last year. Fox News Channel and MSNBC space facing similar trends, according to kagan projections.

Cable news outlets “have come reimagine themselves for the post-Trump era. I’m not sure that everyone has any type of idea what that is going to look like,” says note Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert college of Communication and also a previous NBC News executive. “History would certainly tell you that the ratings room not type to the networks that room sympathetic to the chairman in strength at the moment.”

Under Zucker, however, CNN has actually staked out an aggressive demeanor. Larry King once organized genial conversations with celebrities at 9 p.m. On CNN. This days, kris Cuomo provides that hour to press guests to answer difficult questions. Executives expect to keep that view — they contact it “Facts First” — during a Biden administration, states a person familiar with the matter. The positioning turns what was as soon as CNN’s middle-of-the-road information-gathering right into something that holds newsmakers come account, no issue their political leanings.

There has actually been speculation that AT&T, struggling through a hefty debt load, can like to rid chin of CNN. Law so, however, can be a daunting task. Simply as Fox News contributes a far-ranging amount of benefit to the work of that parent, Fox Corp., so CNN rises WarnerMedia.

Much of CNN’s revenue comes from long-term affiliation contracts around the world, claims media industry analyst Craig Moffett the the independent certain MoffettNathanson. That’s the type of cash flow wall surface Street loves. CNN is also seen together a vast driver the the soon-to-launch advertising-supported variation of HBO Max. And as consumers relocate to streaming and also undermine TV networks an ext reliant ~ above scripted entertainment, CNN will become more valuable, Moffett argues. “As lock pivot much more and an ext toward your HBO Max strategy, the negotiating leverage of TNT and TBS it s okay weaker and weaker.”


This would appear to be the moment for WarnerMedia and CNN to remain the course. Zucker, however, has actually never to be a traditionalist. Once he was head of NBC Entertainment, he expanded a few episodes of comedies “Friends,” “Will & Grace” and “Just shoot Me!” to 40 minutes and also called the resulting block Super-Size Thursday. He additionally tried to encourage rerun episodes to people who had missed them the an initial time around, informing viewers in promos, “If friend haven’t checked out it, it’s brand-new to you.”

Indeed, Zucker’s choice to go to CNN would not be one that numerous with his résumé would pursue. He rose to become CEO the NBCUniversal before Comcast bought that from basic Electric. Other huge media CEOs prefer Michael Eisner and also Tom Freston ankled top work at Walt Disney and Viacom, respectively, released their very own niche ventures and made strategy investments. Zucker, however, has chosen steady work. First, he led a daytime talk display anchored by Katie Couric and also then relocated to CNN, whereby he is a an effective operating chief — yet not the top human at the bigger company, as he has been in the past.

Zucker involved CNN in 2013, while it to be owned through Time Warner, and he has remained in ~ the firm even as AT&T has put in many brand-new senior executives in ~ its operating units. An elderly execs court hazard in remaining at a corporation that has new owners, states Robert Kelley, a professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper institution of Business. “ might say, ‘We have acquired our own ideas about what we are going to do, and also we space going to lug somebody else in to carry out it.’”

Managing a journalism outfit is a unique assignment, however, and many media CEOs may not desire the distraction. News operations space filled with talent issues and coverage pressures and also are prone to drawing outsize scrutiny from critics and advocacy organizations. News units “have always been in ~ their ideal when they have actually a Jeff Zucker-type person backing up against the suits,” says management professor Sonnenfeld. That likens Zucker and also Kilar to other pairings that journalism managers and also media CEOs, such together Edward R. Murrow and William Paley in ~ CBS.

Zucker’s tenure in ~ CNN hasn’t been smooth. The network has been criticized for its indulgent coverage of trump in his beforehand days as a candidate, and also for that is bickering red-versus-blue panels in primetime. However a phalanx that tough-skinned anchors favor Cuomo and Don Lemon, Brianna Keilar and also Alisyn Camerota, have constantly returned for another day that broadcasting, no issue the level of strongness of your on-air exchanges through guests.

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“It take away a strong personality come run one of these networks,” states Lukasiewicz. “If leaves, there will be a feet in the company that will not be straightforward to fill.”

Many CNN employees hope their boss will hang on, and also some observers to speak they would certainly be surprised if he did indeed offer up the job. The man likes to gain his hands dirty. “I think he’s going come stay,” says Sonnenfeld. Yet only Jeff Zucker truly knows what he wants to carry out next.