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To go out on top or not to go out on top? That is the question CNN Worldwide president and WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman Jeff Zucker has been asking himself in recent months. It appears he has answered that question, and will remain the network through his current contract, which runs through 2021.
Then, he expects to move on.
“I cannot imagine not being here right now. I have this incredible seat in the very front row of history every day. I work with the best people in the business,” Zucker said on a Thursday 9 a.m. staff call, adding, “I am going to stay and finish my current contract – which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on.”
CNN finished January as the No. 1 network in all of cable in all relevant measurements and dayparts, per Nielsen data, bypassing Fox News and MSNBC in average total viewers. However, after the impending impeachment trial, which begins next week, its ratings will most certainly dip as a less chaotic administration takes over.
Nevertheless, Zucker wants to see 2021 through.
“He’s the best boss I ever had, and it’s not even close,” Jake Tapper told the New York Times. “I’m grateful that we get him for another year.”
Zucker, who joined CNN as president in January 2013, acknowledged in a conversation with the LAT that he talked last fall with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar about leaving early in 2021. But he decided against it.
“I love my job, it’s really that simple,” Zucker told the L.A. Times‘ Steve Battaglio in a separate interview before the staff call. “I have an incredible vantage point here. I felt that I wanted to honor the contractual commitment.” He added: “The energy of this new cycle has gone on longer than anyone could have imagined; it is still continuing and I’m still excited about that.”
TVNewser obtained a transcript of Zucker’s remarks from the staff call this morning:
Before we get started this morning, I have some news to share and this time its about me.
I really hate that I have become the focus of some intrigue, and I hate it because we have so much more important news to cover. But I know that I have owed this organization an answer about my own future, and so it is time to put the speculation to rest.
So here’s the deal: I am gonna stay at CNN through the end of this year.
I cannot imagine not being here right now. I have this incredible seat in the very front row of history every day. I work with the best people in the business. As we have noted, multiple times, CNN has never been stronger – and that is something I am incredibly proud of. We have come a very long way in the past eight years. We have challenges ahead, for sure – but we could not be better positioned to meet them. The future is bright with tremendous opportunity, and I want to put all the right pieces into place to make sure that CNN remains strong for many years to come. And, as we know, we have been doing our daily meetings this way for nearly a year. This organization has been thru a lot. I’d like to be here to get us all back to a new normal, one that feels much more like it once did around here.
So, as a result, I am going to stay and finish my current contract – which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on. But that is almost a year from now. That’s a long time. Think back to how much has happened in the last year and how much we have accomplished together in the PAST year. So I’m not at all focused on the end – I’m focused on the now. Today, next week, next month, the next three months, and beyond.
Look, I do get it. Some of you will hear what I’m saying as an announcement that I am leaving. That is truly not the way I see it. The truth is, back in November and December, I had basically decided that it was time to move on now. But since then, I’ve had a change of heart. And I want to stay. Not forever, but for another year. And I feel really good about this decision.
My hope is that you will see this as good news, too, and focus on the fact that we get another year together.
So there you have it. Now we can get on with the business at hand. As I said, we’ve got a lot to do. And there is a lot going on.
So let’s begin with the most awkward transition ever on this 9a call, and start with Virginia.
A fair number of top news executives are exiting their respective companies as a new presidential administration enters — ABC News president James Goldston, MSNBC president Phil Griffin, and also on the print side — Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron. Zucker will leave his post as well, but not until the end of the year.
Upon Zucker’s exit, the role of CNN Worldwide president will become one of the most coveted in media.
With all of these top spots at major media outlets opening up, Business Insider’s Claire Atkinson published a list of 14 executives who could slide into those roles, including who could potentially replace Zucker at CNN in 2022. You may recognize many of these names from the James Goldston ABC News president replacement story we published last week.