There is a lot of intrigue surrounding the future and rumors are swirling. The New York Post reports that industry insiders speculate that Warners-Discovery may be trying to sell its problematic properties. Jeffrey Zucker is the name that stands out when it comes to guesswork on potential suitors.
All of this is not much different from what we often see in sports, where trade rumors are common. Sports journalists will wishcast and then get fed information from agents who want to leverage teams for their clients. The Post talked to a variety of industry professionals, who had varying opinions about the matter. However, the fun part is the possibility of Zucker re-acquiring his old network.
These rumors are at least partially plausible. Recently, I did a review of Chris Licht’s rapid decline from grace as the newly appointed CEO of the network. When other media outlets started covering the drama around his departure, it was reported that a number CNN personalities and staffers had turned to Zucker behind-the-scenes over the course the last year.
It was clear that many people at the failing network still owed their former boss and were resisting any changes Licht hoped to bring about. This revealed how Zucker was in some way working against Licht’s desire to restore a badly damaged news outlet. It is hard to look at someone who suggests that Zucker will soon take control of his flagship without a smirk.
This proposal has a wrinkle: the leader who is dispatched would have to pay for this purchase if the network was put up for auction. Zucker is the CEO of Red Bird, and partners with International Media Investments. This Abu Dhabi-based entity is thought to be able to attract the billions needed for a country purchase.
CNN would be funded with oil money. It would be a source of endless speculation as to how the network covers global issues, environmental concerns and potential conflicts of interest.
There are two things that those who cover CNN’s future under Zucker will not mention – nor will those current staffers who long for his return. First, the current ratings catastrophe of the network began under Zucker’s leadership. CNN’s ratings had plummeted by the time Zucker was sent to it in February 2022. At the time, the network was averaging 550,000 viewers. This is a drop of over two million viewers from 2021, which amounts to a 90 percent decline. Many still working at the network want to see this performance again.
The track record of Zucker’s leadership is not just about the stumbling numbers. Zucker has pushed the network to a deeply anti-Trump position for years. He had a questionable relationship with Andrew Cuomo on the air and allowed his brother Chris commit many journalistic mistakes on air. Zucker allowed Don Lemon to rant for two hours during primetime. Jim Acosta was encouraged to create a raucous distraction at the White House. Brian Stelter served as a moral spokesperson to justify this behavior.
Jeff Zucker’s tenure paved the way for CNN to be in its current hapless position. It is absurd to think of him as a sort of savior who can bring CNN back to prominence.