By Jordan Chariton, TheWrap.com February 17, 2015 @ 7:00 am
“Everyone said we were getting out of news — we doubled-down on news,” Jeff Zucker tells TheWrap
Outside of CNN President Jeff Zucker‘s office, the newsroom is humming with activity. Host Brooke Baldwin is live, a digital meeting is underway and a new sense of confidence permeates the air. Two years ago when Zucker arrived the 24 hour cable news network was all but declared a dwindling relic of the past. Now it is making its move.
The original cable news network surged past ratings-challenged MSNBC into second place in 2014, finishing the year in front of the “Lean Forward” network in all measurements aside from primetime total viewers. As of last week, CNN was the only big three cable news network up during the day and in Monday-Sunday primetime for the still-in-progress first quarter.
And CNN’s up big: 59 percent in viewers and 62 percent in the coveted 25-54 demo during the day; 35 percent in viewers and 50 percent in the demo in primetime (Monday-Sunday).
The formula: riding the coattails of breaking news — in many cases stretching that news far beyond its natural life cycle — mixed with a heap of original series. When Zucker deployed the latter, spearheaded byAnthony Bourdain, John Walsh and Morgan Spurlock, media critics howled he was stomping the news right out of the organization most trusted for it.
“Everyone said we were getting out of news,” Zucker told TheWrap in an exclusive interview, defiantly flipping his hand in dismissal of the media chorus. “We doubled down on news.”
The CNN chief also touched on the blending of news and original series, his talent expressing their views on certain stories and more in a wide-ranging interview with TheWrap last week.
What are some of the broader factors that allowed you to make significant gains in 2014 and 2015?
I think we’ve reconfirmed that CNN stands for news, and our commitment to covering news on a global scale is clear. And there’s been a tremendous amount of news — especially international news — and we’ve committed to covering that … Covering news coupled with the original series strategy has given us a very firm footing.
Has focusing on individual stories [Malaysia Airlines, Ebola outbreak] for longer been a key to your success?
I think what people didn’t understand about the plane [missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370] is that was the strategy. And we’ve worn that out whether it was Ukraine, or Ferguson, or the Paris terror attacks; whatever the story was, we have the resources to go all in on that story. We’re covering every story in the world — we’re just not necessarily putting every one of them on television. Our digital strength continues to be tremendous. That is what I think people haven’t fully appreciated, and that is a fundamental strategic shift. I do think the strategy of honing in on whatever the two or three major stories of that time are has really worked and obviously something we’re going to continue to do.
Are you concerned with pushing away longtime CNN viewers who want all the news on CNN TV?
Good question, but wrong. Because what’s actually increased at CNN is the length of tune-in of our viewers, meaning that those viewers are actually watching for a longer length of time each time they come. So, we’re not alienating those viewers; actually by giving them what they’re interested in and more of it, they’re staying longer. That criticism from media critics — it may be a media criticism — but actually has been completely the opposite for our viewers. And our viewers have actually completely responded to it, and our length of tune-in has actually increased.
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