AT&T won’t be able to hang up on Jeff Zucker. The colorful CNN chief signed a deal several months ago that will keep him at the cable-news network through the 2020 election, according to a person familiar with the matter,.
CNN declined to make executives available for comment. Vanity Fair previously revealed details of the executive’s contract.
The pact, previously undisclosed, will dampen speculation that AT&T, which gained approval Wednesday to complete its purchase of CNN owner Time Warner, might try to oust Zucker and put a new executive at the helm of CNN. Under Zucker’s tenure, CNN has gained new relevance with its coverage of the Trump administration. That journalism also draws the ire of President Trump, who often takes to Twitter to call CNN “Fake News.” He often uses the same phrase to disparage CNN’s reporters during press appearances.
Since arriving at CNN in 2013, Zucker has developed a slate of original documentary series and documentary films; hired anchors including Jake Tapper, Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo; and given higher profiles to CNN personnel like Don Lemon and Brooke Baldwin. Zucker has also presided over an expansion of digital content at the network, whose stories are as likely to show up in email newsletters and mobile web pages as they are on TV.
While the network trails rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC in primetime, it has made viewership gains in many parts of the schedule, and often beats MSNBC among viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic favored by advertisers in news programming – in daytime programming and on weekends.
Gains at CNN are nothing to dismiss casually. CNN threw off $1 billion in profit for Time Warner in 2016, and had been expected to do the same in 2017. That’s a significant chunk for its parent company, which had 2016 net income of approximately $3.93 billion.
At the same time, Zucker has also served as a lightning rod of sorts, with President Trump claiming at various points that he helped the executive get his job at CNN, or that he helped boost Zucker’s career. During his time at CNN, the network has become more polarizing than in the past, pursuing a “Facts First” brand positioning that took an image of vanilla, down-the-middle reporting and turned it into a sort of “aggressive neutral” that tries to find accurate details for viewers.