CNN president Jeff Zucker met with reporters last week and expressed cautious optimism that the network could overtake Fox News in the ratings by 2016.
When asked how quickly he thinks CNN can become the number one cable news channel, Zucker responded by saying, “Come back to me in three years,” adding that he has only been in place for four months. He said that while no one thought that they would be in this position—number two in cable news—they still had “miles and miles” to go to catch Fox News.
“We have to maintain where we are today. Fox is number one, they are incredibly strong and incredibly dominant,” said Zucker.
That’s an understatement, with Fox more than doubling CNN’s total audience in primetime, and still maintaining a healthy lead in the key 25-54 demo.
Zucker is riding high after a strong April that saw the network overtake MSNBC for the number two position in cable news, and maintain that position so far in May.
While CNN’s ratings are way up from last year, and are making Zucker look good, the truth is that the network has benefited greatly from a barrage of news events—the Boston Marathon bombings, the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and the freeing of the kidnap victims in Ohio last week—and not any brilliant programming decisions on his part.
As a matter of fact, his programming decisions to date have a mixed record at best. They include the abject failure of The Point, and the so-so debut of The Lead with Jake Tapper, which has marginally improved on the ratings of the program it replaced.
I’ll give Zucker credit for his optimism, but not for his realism.