CNN chief tries to salvage network’s news cred but Nielson numbers don’t back him

CNN President Jeffrey Zucker told “The Wrap’s” Jordan Chariton in an interview published Tuesday that the original all-news cable network is, if anything, doubling down on delivering viewers the news.

The numbers don’t back him up, though.


The question of CNN’s direction has been creeping up lately, given the addition of such talent as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain hosting a food and travel show called, “Parts Unknown,” and TV personality Mike Rowe hosting “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

They’re both talented men hosting fine shows — but it’s not news.

“Everyone said we were getting out of news,” Zucker told “The Wrap” in its exclusive interview. “We doubled down on news.”

In addition to the non-news programming mentioned above, when other cable news outlets were reporting on Islamist terrorists’ latest outrage — the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians — CNN transformed anchor Anderson Cooper’s respected “AC-360” format into a politically themed Presidents Day game show.

But when asked whether he was concerned about pushing away the news junkies that first put CNN on the map, Zucker answered:

“Good question, but wrong,” he said. “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.”

First of all, the length of time viewers remain tuned into a network has nothing to do with whether they’re watching the news, a talent show or “Bowling for Dollars.” Maybe they’re staying tuned in longer precisely because it isn’t the news.

But just as important, what he’s saying just isn’t true.

Zucker continued answering Chariton’s question by repeating the theme that length of viewer tune-in has been steadily on the rise.

“So, we’re not alienating those viewers. Actually, by giving them what they’re interested in and more of it, they’re staying longer,” he said. “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.”

The man doth protest too much, methinks.

CNN’s length of view time is actually down, according to Nielsen ratings.  The network fell from 16.9 minutes during the first quarter of 2014 to 16.5 minutes in the fourth quarter of that year. It’s fallen even further this year, to an average of 15.8 minutes.

And those figures aren’t attributable to a national malaise directed at the news in general.

Fox News Channel is actually averaging almost twice the view times as CNN — 27.5 minutes.

A year ago January, Zucker bristled at a suggestion by FNC’s Roger Ailes that CNN was getting out of the news business, telling the Hollywood Reporter, “That means Fox has won the cable news wars.”

According to then-Los Angeles Times media reporter Joe Flint, Zucker shot back:

Well, OK, that and game shows, food shows, travel shows and general entertainment. I understand “Bowling for Dollars” could make a comeback. Could Zucker be interested?

Whatever happened to, “CNN: The most trusted name in news”? And no, that’s not a game show question.


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