“I am going to stay and finish my current contract, which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year,” Zucker told employees. “At that point, I do expect to move on. But that is almost a year from now. That’s a long time.”
He added that “the truth is, back in November and December, I had basically decided that it was time to move on now. But since then, I’ve had a change of heart. And I want to stay. Not forever, but for another year. And I feel really good about this decision.”
Although there had been a lot of speculation that Zucker would exit after the election, in recent weeks employees have predicted that Zucker would stay, as ratings for the network have improved, particularly in its coverage of the tumult since the election. In January, the network beat rivals MSNBC and Fox News in primetime and total day viewers, but it remains to be seen how viewership will settle now that Donald Trump is out of office.
“I cannot imagine not being here right now. I have this incredible seat in the very front row of history every day. I work with the best people in the business,” Zucker said in the call. “As we have noted, multiple times, CNN has never been stronger, and that is something I am incredibly proud of. We have come a very long way in the past eight years. We have challenges ahead, for sure, but we could not be better positioned to meet them.”
He added that “this organization has been thru a lot. I’d like to be here to get us all back to a new normal, one that feels much more like it once did around here.”
Zucker became head of CNN in 2013, and in 2019, after the merger of Time Warner with AT&T, he took on the new title of chairman of WarnerMedia News & Sports and President of CNN.
CNN’s Brian Stelter first reported on Zucker’s announcement.
The news business has been through a period of upheaval in its leadership ranks over the past year. Last week, the president of ABC News, James Goldston, announced that he would exit, with no immediate successor named. On Monday, Rashida Jones became president of MSNBC, succeeding Phil Griffin, who announced in December that he would step down after 12 years in the post. Andrew Lack stepped down last year as chairman of NBC News, with Cesar Conde succeeding in the newly created position of chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group.
Last year, Zucker had hinted at the idea of running for mayor of New York in 2021, as he had previously talked about the prospect of getting into politics. That now won’t happen, with the city’s primary on June 22 and general election on Nov. 2.
But Zucker was often in the political fray during the Trump years, as the then-president would target him in addition to the network. They have had a long history going back to when Zucker led NBC Entertainment and, in 2004, picked up The Apprentice for the network’s primetime schedule.
Before Zucker became the head of CNN, Trump tweeted on Nov. 5, 2012, “@CNN is looking at Jeff Zucker to lead them out of the forest–Jeff would be a great choice.”
On Oct. 15 last year, Trump tweeted, “Now that we have found out that @CNN is a virtual fraud, rumor has it that Jeff Zucker will be resigining [sic] momentarily?”
There have been reports of friction between Zucker and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who has an aggressive strategy to push the company toward streaming. But Kilar recently said at a Variety event, “The two best things that ever happened to CNN were Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker.”
Zucker has steered the network to a kind of wall-to-wall coverage of a breaking news story, most apparent in 2014, when it devoted weeks to the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That strategy seemed to gel during the Trump years, what with the chaos of the administration producing endless streams of breaking news from the White House. The network also has become much more personality driven in primetime, as Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon now offer nightly streams of commentary in addition to guests.