CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker sent a rather optimistic end-of-year email to the entire company, highlighting what he saw as successes while downplaying the challenges that the network faces going forward:
December 22, 2014
As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year.
This has been a terrific year for the entire CNN worldwide organization, though certainly not without its challenges. Still, we are ending 2014 in our best shape in many years. Journalistically. Competitively. Financially.
As always, it is our journalism that has defined the year. Our coverage in Ferguson, Ukraine, Kobani, North Korea, Mt. Sinjar in Iraq, Caracas, Liberia where we were first on the Ebola crisis, Nigeria for the story of the missing school girls before anyone else, and in so many other places, again showed that CNN’s worldwide newsgathering resources and people are unmatched. Think about Phil Black’s dramatic first-on-the-scene reporting from the crash of MH17, Anderson Cooper’s newsmaking interviews with Donald Sterling and Magic Johnson and Drew Griffin’s expose of the scandal at the Veterans Administration that led to the resignation of the VA Secretary. Just a few examples of the powerful reporting that made a difference this year.
I am often asked what makes me proudest about working at CNN. It is our journalism. And the world relies on it, every day.
Every division played a role in making this a year to remember:
- CNN US had a terrific year with both its news programs and original series. CNN ends the year solidly in second place. That’s our best competitive position in prime time since 2008 and best in total day since 2011. CNN has beaten MSNBC in prime time and total day for five straight months, the longest winning streak over MSNBC in six years. On the original series side, a strategy that was born in 2013 flourished in 2014. CNN found success in new series from John Walsh, Mike Rowe and Lisa Ling to go with its established hits from Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock. All of that led Ad Age to recently call CNN the “Hottest News Network.”
- On the international side, CNNI was named News Channel of the Year for the second year in a row by the Royal Television Society and “Cable & Satellite Channel of the Year” at the Asian Television Awards, also for the second year in a row. Those honors, on both sides of the world, and the fact that CNN is the undisputed #1 international news brand, in television and digital, leaves CNN in the strongest position of anyone globally. And the work of CNN en Espanol this year was superb, and resulted in its best year ever.
- This was the most successful year ever for CNN Digital, by just about every measure. We launched one of the industry’s most important innovations in years with CNNGo. We took full ownership of CNNMoney, where our video traffic is now up 480% over last year, and reimagined CNN Politics. CNN.com had many months where we were #1 in page views, video and visits. Video exploded, with more than two billion videos watched, and @cnnbrk moved past 20 million followers, increasing our lead as the most followed (and fanned) news organization in the world. All of this comes as we are about to launch a brand new CNN.com in two weeks.
- And at HLN, in the face of questions about its fate, the network pulled together and identified a new strategy that will launch in earnest in the weeks ahead. Even with the uncertainty, HLN beat MSNBC for the last six straight months in total day demos, its longest such streak in more than nine years.
I want to say congratulations and thank you to each of you, across the company and around the globe, for making this all happen. Any organization is only as good as its people. And this year you proved just how strong you are.
It would be folly to ignore the fact that this success also came at a time of real change for us. As we all know, some talented people have left the organization, many of them our longtime friends and colleagues. That has been tough. And it is ok to say so.
I look forward to getting together with each of you at our annual global town hall, on January 14, where we will look ahead and lay out our goals for 2015. Until then, please accept both my thanks and congratulations on a terrific 2014. I hope that the coming days will allow each of you to reflect on your own successes, both professionally and personally. No matter where you are or what you are celebrating, I want to wish a Happy Holidays to each of you and your loved ones.
Granted, it’s the president’s job to portray the company in the best possible light. But it’s hard to imagine that many of the employees are buying his positive message, given the recent company-wide layoffs and Zucker’s efforts to remake CNN into a network that is less reliant on its roots as a news network.
CNN’s ratings success—and I use that term loosely—was mainly due to the numerous breaking news events, which is where the network thrives, plus MSNBC’s failures. It wasn’t because of any brilliant new programming decisions by Zucker.
Next year may be the make-or-break year for Zucker and CNN. Since taking over the network in 2013, he has made very little overall progress—and with profits under pressure from a soft advertising climate and declining interest in cable news, the clock is definitely ticking on his tenure.