Jeff Zucker’s Quest for the Fountain of Youth

CNN boss scrambles to scare up a younger audience

While CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker is looking to draw a younger, more cosmopolitan audience, he acknowledges that reaching people who fit that description is a challenge in a cord-cutting universe.

“We don’t have to have everybody in the world watching CNN, but we have to be essential to enough people,” Zucker said, in a Q&A with All Things Digital’s Walt Mossberg. “If we’re essential enough to them, they’ll pay for that service.”

Trouble is, it's getting increasingly more difficult to get the 18-24 set to plug into linear TV. And as robust as CNN's digital portfolio is, the real money remains tied up in the boob tube. “The television platform… [is] where the highest advertising rates are and the highest CPMs,” Zucker said.

Since becoming president in January, Zucker has made a series of changes designed to win the hearts and minds of a younger audience that is increasingly disinterested in, and even disdainful of, cable news.

In doing so, the network seems to be eliminating the vestiges of shoe-leather journalism, shuttering foreign bureaus and embracing more entertainment-leaning programming.

The most recent casualty of CNN’s shifting focus is its Baghdad bureau, which was quietly shuttered in May. CNN was the last U.S. TV news organization to have a bureau in Iraq.

“While CNN is departing its current brick-and-mortar location in Baghdad, the network continues to maintain an editorial presence in Iraq through a dedicated team of CNN stringers and correspondent assignments as news warrants,” a CNN spokesperson said.

Perhaps CNN will use the resources formerly dedicated to staffing its Baghdad bureau to fund its new BuzzFeed YouTube channel.

In addition to cutting his losses, Zucker has attempted to revive the low-rated network by focusing on younger, telegenic anchors like Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan, the faces of the upcoming morning show New Day With Chris & Kate (June 17).

Word around the campfire is that CNN is gradually cutting 65-year-old Wolf Blitzer’s airtime. CNN staffers claim that The Situation Room host will lose his top position at the network and be replaced by new hires like Cuomo and Jake Tapper.

“Wolf is going to be gradually phased out and replaced with a younger, hipper host,” an anonymous source told the New York Daily News.

Since Zucker fired James Carville, Mary Matalin and Roland Martin, rumors abound that Zucker has it in for older anchors. Martin also claimed that Zucker and the network’s “largely white male” execs are uncomfortable with promoting minorities, pointing out that CNN has not had a prominent African-American anchor for years. (Don Lemon might beg to differ.) Zucker even bumped longtime anchor Soledad O’Brien from her morning perch; her future interactions with CNN will be limited to the documentaries she develops for the network via her indie production company, Starfish Media Group.

CNN closed out May up 68 percent in prime-time ratings, averaging 650,000 viewers per night. While it topped MSNBC (down 20 percent year-over-year to 528,000 viewers), CNN’s deliveries are a fraction of those enjoyed by Fox News Channel (1.92 million viewers, up 16 percent).

That said, CNN made some headway on FNC in the news demo, averaging 221,000 adults 25-54 (nearly double its year-ago 113,000) to its rival’s 301,000 (down 6 percent).

Publish date: June 3, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT