“Those two channels are covering political news. We’re covering politics and much more,” Jeff Zucker said today of Fox News and MSNBC. “Our competition now is two political channels that have actually left most of the actual news coverage to the side,” he also said. The CNN chief was appearing Wednesday with IAC chair Barry Diller at this year’s D11 conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes. “News is how you define it, we define it broadly as news and information. We’re expanding the audience that is watching CNN. In order to be successful, we need to bring new viewers,” he added stressing that elements of CNN programming have more in common now with Discovery and Nat Geo than FNC and MSNBC. “The key to us is to make CNN essential on whatever platform it is on,” Zucker noted. He added that his cable news rivals “do a good job” at what they cover.
“Protecting the brand is the key and one of the things I’ve been so warmed by is how strong and vibrant the CNN brand continues to be even when their ratings have not been what they used to be,” Zucker responded to a question from the audience about some of the less than hard news stories the network has covered since he took over. “I don’t think that hurt the CNN brand, he said of the network’s extensive coverage of the crippled Carnival Triumph cruise liner earlier this year. Zucker also was on the defensive about errors that CNN have made under his watch. “We made a mistake in Boston and we corrected it within 45 minutes of airing. The Boston Globe, who I think will probably win the Pulitzer Prize for their Boston coverage, didn’t correct for hours,” he said of the cable news network’s incorrect on-air assertion that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombing case.
On the job for five months now, Zucker’s appearance today comes as CNN’s May ratings revealed strong double-digit growth over last year. Granted last May was the cable news network’s lowest viewership month in 20 years so any growth is relative. Still CNN primetime viewership was up 70% (660,000) and its pulled in 97% (225,000) more in the 25-54 demo than it had in May 2012. In a news heavy month with politics as well coverage of the tornado in Oklahoma, the escape of the Cleveland kidnapping victims and more of the investigation in Boston, Fox News Channel remained solidly in first place in primetime in May in terms of viewers (1.97 million) and among the Adult 25-54 demo (308,000) The struggling MSNBC, which hit a seven year total day viewership low for the week of May 13-17, fell to fourth place in the cable news ranking for May behind CNN’s sister station HLN. May represents the second month in a row that CNN has topped MSNBC in both primetime and total day in viewers and among the demo. Two new show introduced since Zucker took over both saw muscular growth in May over last year. The Lead With Jake Tapper was up 50% in total viewers over the same slot in May 2012 and up 95% among adults 25-54 (2013: 160,000/2012: 82,000). Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown has raised its demo pull 251% over what was in the Sunday slot in May 2012 and has seen viewership rise 74% compared to a year ago.
The direction is not upward over on MSNBC in May. In primetime, the network was down 20% in terms of viewers (539,000) and down 19% among Adults 25-54 (175,000) in May 2012 compared to the year before. That’s the worst MSNBC has done since December 2007 in terms of viewers and the worst in the demo since May 2007. This May, the network’s flagship Rachel Maddow Show garnered its lowest viewership numbers since it debuted in September 2008 and tied its December 2009 result for the second lowest result among Adults 25-54.