Jeff Zucker Claims CNN Covers 'Much More' Than Fox News, MSNBC

May 31st, 2013 3:11 PM

Five months into his tenure as president of the Cable News Network, Jeff Zucker gave a “progress report” on Wednesday by stating that rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC “are covering politics” while CNN is reporting on “politics and much more.”

“News is how you define it,” Zucker said during a panel discussion in the “All Things Digital” conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., and “we define it broadly as news and information. Our competition now is two political channels that have actually left most of the actual news coverage to the side.”

While admitting that Fox News and MSNBC do “a good job” reporting what they do cover, the  executive stressed that elements of CNN programming have more in common with the Discovery and National Geographic channels. “The key to us is to make CNN essential on whatever platform it is on,” he said.

Responding to a question from the audience about “fluff” stories and mistakes made by on-air reporters, Zucker stated:

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 the ratings have not been what they used to be.

One of the “less-than-hard-news stories” the channel was criticized for was the wall-to-wall coverage of the crippled Carnival Triumph cruise liner on Feb. 15, which nevertheless gave the network a 43 percent boost in total day viewership and “didn't hurt the CNN brand,” Zucker noted.

However, the CNN president was more defensive regarding the error in reporting that an arrest had been made during the first few days of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.

We made a mistake in Boston, and we corrected it in 45 minutes. The Boston Globe, who I think will win the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Marathon bombing, didn’t correct it right away.

Also, Zucker claimed that his channel is “expanding the audience that is watching CNN. In order to be successful, we need to bring in new viewers,” he added.

His assertion was supported by the May ratings, which showed double-digit increases over the same period in 2012.

CNN primetime viewership was up 70 percent (660,000), and it pulled in 97 percent (225,000) more in the important 25-54 age demographic than it did last May. However, that month in 2012 saw the network's lowest viewership in 20 years, which makes the increase less significant than might otherwise be the case.

During a news-heavy month with politics as well as 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.

Still, May was the second month in a row that CNN beat MSNBC in both primetime and total day in viewers and among the important age demographic.

Two new shows introduced since Zucker took over both saw considerable growth in May over last year. “The Lead With Jake Tapper” was up 50 percent in total viewers over the same slot in 2012 and was up 95 percent among adults 25-54.

In addition, the vulgarity-laced “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” has raised its demo 251 percent over what was in the Sunday slot in May 2012 and has seen viewership rise 74 percent from a year ago.

However, not all of Zucker's programs have been successful. “(Get to) The Point,” an obvious ripoff of “The Five” on Fox News Channel, did so poorly in the ratings that it was pulled off the air within days and then described as a “week-long experiment.”

As NewsBusters previously reported, MSNBC's ratings are in freefall, a fact not lost on CNN's Piers Morgan when he taunted 9 p.m. rival Rachel Maddow with a tweet that referred to a Hollywood Reporter article stating that her network “is in a very precarious fourth place.”

The increasing number of scandals and the media's (begrudging) coverage of them have likely harmed the MSNBC brand of hard-left opinioneering masquerading as news. With bad news for President Obama, it's no wonder MSNBC's base of Democrat partisan are not tuning in. Thus, perhaps Zucker may be onto something.

Still, whenever big news breaks these days, cable viewers flock to the Fox News Channel to find out what's happening, and even though the Cable News Network has made some recent gains, it still comes in a distant second to the channel that has dominated cable news for the past 11 years.

In large part, this is due to the fact that the television news market is saturated with left-of-center content. CNN, HLN, and MSNBC are all having to compete for the same audience that ABC, CBS, and NBC are also trying to appeal to. If the television news industry were actually driven by market forces, it would make sense to see someone trying to compete with Fox News instead of with the alphabet soup of liberalism.