After AT&T on Monday extended the deadline to close its proposed $85 billion deal to acquire Time Warner, the president of CNN Worldwide said the acquisition would be positive for the news company.
Jeff Zucker oversees all of CNN’s businesses, including the CNN U.S. television network, CNN International, HLN and CNN’s digital properties. CNN is owned by Turner Broadcasting System, a division of Time Warner. The acquisition deal is pending approval from U.S. regulators.
“We actually think it’s potentially very exciting and good for CNN,” Zucker said Tuesday during a talk at the Atlanta Press Club. Crystal Edmonson, broadcast editor at the Atlanta Business Chronicle, moderated the conversation.
AT&T has said one reason for acquiring Time Warner is because it believes that the future of video is mobile. Zucker said this sentiment aligns with CNN’s outlook and investments.
“If they can help us facilitate that and speed up that transition and put this on the bigger platforms, then I think this can be potentially fantastic for us,” he said.
He reiterated that CNN will continue its operations in Atlanta. The Atlanta headquarters lost its last weekday anchors in 2014 as CNN has moved its shows and anchors to New York City and Washington, D.C.
Zucker, who is based in New York, said he typically visits Atlanta for one to two days a month. But he frequently tells people that the Atlanta office is here to stay, he said.
“CNN is an integral part of Atlanta, and Atlanta is an integral part of CNN,” Zucker said, followed by clapping from the audience.
CNN’s relationship with the White House and President Donald Trump, who has called CNN “fake news” on multiple occasions, was a frequent topic of conversation. Zucker said the administration is impossible to predict.
“It changes hour to hour,” he said. “I can guarantee you that there’ll be a story tonight that we haven’t heard about.”
In response to Trump’s assertions, CNN released Monday a new ad and marketing campaign to push the organization’s mission that it reports news fairly and accurately, Zucker said.
“People have been asking us to stand up for ourselves,” he said. “We’re about the facts. We’re about the truth.”
This year, CNN did brand research to see where the network stood.
“I have been worried if the attacks from the White House have had a negative effect on CNN,” Zucker said. He said this hasn’t happened, according to the company’s findings.
Despite all of this, Zucker said CNN and the White House have a professional relationship, and the White House calls on CNN’s reporters and answers questions.
The White House is not the first situation where Zucker has had experience with Trump. When Zucker was president of NBC Entertainment, he greenlit The Apprentice, the reality TV show that made Trump a star.
“Could I have envisioned this? No,” Zucker said. “I did know during all that time that he was a great marketer, so one of the reasons that we wanted to do the show is that even without a marketing budget, he would promote the show like no one else.”
Tom Johnson, former president of CNN Worldwide, briefly spoke at the press club event, saying that being a profitable company allows CNN to fund its journalism initiatives.
“You must have financial strength to have editorial strength,” Johnson said.
He said since Zucker became president in 2013, CNN has doubled its global audience.
Zucker said over the past few years, the company has invested in newsgathering capabilities and original programming such as "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" and "Race for the White House."
“The only way you can succeed today in this business is to invest,” he said. “There was always going to be times and periods when the news cycle was less vibrant, and we want to fill in those gaps.”
But as important as TV remains, more people consume news and information on CNN’s digital products than will ever watch CNN on TV, Zucker said. That’s why the company continues to invest in its digital properties.
“Changing people’s mindsets to understand that has been difficult to do,” he said. “People find out what’s going on Twitter, but they’re going to go to CNN to see if [the news] is true or to find out more about it.”
Zucker didn’t leave the press club without sharing advice he had learned throughout his career.
“None of us are perfect and we’re all going to fail at some point, but be willing to fail,” he said. “Be willing to make a mistake.”
He also said he objects to the phrase, “That’s not the way we do it.”
“Understand the legacy of wherever you’re working, but don’t be bound by it. It’s important to respect what has gotten an organization to where it is,” Zucker said. “But if you’re bound by it, you’ll never innovate, you’ll never take chances and you’ll never move forward.”