The Zucker Strategy

According to CNN: The Inside Story, part of the reason Ted Turner wanted to start CNN was that his work hours caused him to miss the evening news. At the time, if you missed the evening news you had to wait until the morning to see what was happening in the world. Turner figured there was enough of an audience of people missing the news that he could create a 24 hour news network.

When HLN was first created, it was to beat the Satellite News Network to market. The original point of HLN, with its “News Wheel” format, was that viewers could watch for only a half hour and get the news. Nowadays, cable news networks program for longer spans of time, except for CNN. However, that difference has only increased since Jeff Zucker took over CNN Worldwide in January of 2013.

Research throughout the years has shown that viewers watch Fox News and MSNBC for longer periods of time, but CNN has more unique viewers. So, a Fox or MSNBC viewer may watch for several hours, but a CNN viewer may only tune in to see the latest headlines. In the Pew Research Center’s 2012 State of the News Media report, they found that CNN had almost 100 million cume viewers, putting CNN in first place for that metric. A cume viewer is someone who tunes in for at least one minute. Fox News, which placed second in cume viewers, with about 83 million.

With audience viewership like CNN’s, it is not surprising that they cater to the cume viewers, rather than the length viewers. If you watch CNN, it often seems like they repeat the same stories every half hour for the most part. Oftentimes, that’s true, but it is because most CNN viewers only watch for that much.

Under Jeff Zucker, we have seen that CNN is willing to go wall-to-wall and specialize on certain stories. This has occasionally been good, such as the Situation Room Special Reports that have focused on international news like the Crisis in North Korea. Other times, it has brought widespread mockery to CNN. The most notable example would be MH370, where CNN spent over a month repeating the same information over and over. Fans of CNN cringed as they watched Don Lemon use a toy plane or Richard Quest was brought on to discuss flight aviation, when his speciality is global finance and business. Quest was previously well known on domestic CNN for his Q&A segments with Ali Velshi on Your Money (side note- Ali, if you’re reading this, please come back to CNN!). However, CNN’s ratings spiked and Anderson Cooper began beating the O’Reilly Factor in the demo. A blue moon usually appears more than O’Reilly losing in his timeslot.

What could be causing this contradiction? Cringing, mockery in contrast to sky-high ratings? The cume viewers, they could turn on CNN at almost any minute and hear the latest about MH370. They truly could since CNN International would be simulcast during the night, tape was replaced by live news, and some shows would either start earlier or end later.

Last year, the Pew Research Center announced in a study that the average viewer of cable news watches twenty-five minutes. Personally, I watch more than that just of the Situation Room. Although, I’m not quite sure CNN cares. They’re focused on the average, which means less news for all of us.

Tyler is an employee at TKNN.info, helping to run @TKNNPolJungle. His views are not necessarily held by his employer.

2 replies

  1. The devastation of the Headline News has started with new general manager – Rolando Santos. There first came a non half hour shows and slowly a thirty minutes news bulletins were replaced by another ones.. Just remember anchors back in the years: Bobbie Battista, Lynn Russell, Don Harrison, Bob Losure, Chuck Roberts, Charles Zewe, David Goognow, Judi Fortin, Catherine Callaway, Gordon Graham, Sochi Koto and many others of an old style of Headline News… Around the world in 30 minutes, this is Headline NEWS.

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