Updated 1:20 p.m. ET
Former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker is joining CNN Worldwide
as president, Turner Broadcasting said Thursday, confirming reports earlier
Zucker will be in charge of 23 news and information
businesses around the world, but his key challenge will be reinvigorating CNN's
domestic ratings, particularly in primetime where the one-time leader has
fallen to 20-year lows, and behind its newer partisan rivals Fox News Channel
He takes over CNN from Jim Walton, who
announced this summer that he would step down at the end of the year after
10 years at the helm, saying at the time that, "CNN needs new thinking."
Zucker, who most recently has served as executive producer of Katie Couric's syndicated talk show, will report to Turner Broadcasting CEO Phil Kent and
will be based in New York, rather than CNN's Atlanta base. Kent said the location would not be a problem as CNN's U.S. network and its head, Ken Jautz, are already based in New York.
With a background as a researcher for NBC Sports' Olympic
coverage and executive producer of NBC News programming including the Today
show and Nightly News, Zucker knows his way around a newsroom. Later he
became head of all of NBCU's operations where he oversaw the flagship NBC
network at a time when its primetime ratings sank and orchestrated the failed
Jay Leno in primetime experiment; he was dismissed when Comcast bought control
of the media company from General Electric.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Kent said
Zucker's performance as an entertainment executive was irrelevant to his
decision to hire him to lead CNN and Zucker acknowledged that he has learned
from his past mistakes.
Zucker's most visible task as president of CNN will be to
revive the U.S. network's slumping primetime ratings, though both he and Kent
cautioned that ratings are not the only thing that defines the success and that
its core business is strong.
"Ratings are not the only thing that we are concerned about
here. What is the most important thing in our business is to be essential every
day to some core pocket of fans," Kent said, referring to the high subscriber fees CNN
still commands from cable operators for its must-carry status.
Though Zucker declined to comment on specific programming
plans or his opinion on specific current CNN shows, he did say the network
needs to broaden its definition of what news is, like it will do with upcoming
weekend shows from Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock.
"We're not going to stray from the journalism that's the
hallmark of CNN, but at the same time we live in a world where nonfiction
programming comes in many forms," Zucker said, who added that "news is not just
about politics and war" and that shows like Bourdain's "begins to understand
that the definition of news is broader than perhaps what has historically been
thought about here."
And as CNN expands its definition of news, so must it expand
its idea of competitors to anyone who produces nonfiction programming, Zucker
said. "If we only look at competitive set being Fox News and MSNBC, I think we
make a mistake."
Though of course, Zucker acknowledged, the goal is to get
higher daily ratings than both of those two cable news networks.