The New York Times is reporting that former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker is likely to be named the new president of CNN in the next few weeks, capping a search for a successor to Jim Walton, who announced in July that he would be retiring at the end of the year.
Zucker had a largely successful career at NBC, and was best known for helping The Today Show rise to the top of the ratings, a spot the show held for 16 years, until this summer. He also ran the company’s cable channels, which he led to record profits. He was far less successful with NBC’s prime time lineup, and left the company after it was taken over by Comcast in 2010.
But past results are no guarantee of future success. By taking on CNN, Zucker will face a monumental challenge of turning around a moribund prime time news lineup that even in an election year has seen its audience fall 16 percent and is considered largely irrelevant by cable subscribers, as evidenced by the ratings.
The network, known for more straight news reporting, albeit with a liberal bent, has been trying in certain ways to copy both Fox News and MSNBC, while trying to claim they don’t have a viewpoint. This has led to a muddled mess of programming that still leans to the liberal side, and lacks any true identity, confusing viewers in the process.
One bright spot for CNN in the last couple of years has been when there are breaking news events and the like. The network tends to dominate in these instances and perhaps Zucker should carefully examine whether or not honest, straight down the middle reporting is where he should concentrate his efforts, rather than trying to emulate the competition, which has only exacerbated its decline.
CNN, which was once the undisputed cable news leader, has sputtered in recent years as its prime time lineup lost vast segments of its audience to both Fox News and MSNBC. Viewers decided they preferred the livelier and more politically charged programs on those networks to the decidedly bland programs that CNN was offering.
While CNN may admirably be attempting to present the news in a less ideological manner than Fox or MSNBC, ratings still matter. And while MSNBC has become little more than a refuge for the far-left, and an arm of the current Democratic Party, CNN is paying the price for its unwillingness to race MSNBC to the bottom. Their problem is figuring out a way to find a larger audience, while staying true to what a news network should be doing—reporting the facts without fear or favor, and letting the viewers take it from there.
CNN is hoping that Zucker can find the magic he displayed at The Today Show, combined with his cable experience, to revive the network’s fortunes. But unless he is able to figure out a way to reshape CNN in such a way as to keep it balanced, while at the same time making it appealing, he may find success hard to come by.