Randall Stephenson on Jeff Zucker and CNN: ‘Our Priority Is to Keep Management Teams in Place’

By A.J. Katz 

Titans of industry have been making news this week at media business conferences.

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger spoke yesterday at Vanity Fair’s fourth annual New Establishment Summit in L.A., and AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson spoke at the summit today. CBS and Viacom vice chair Shari Redstone spoke at the Paley Center for Media in New York yesterday.

Stephenson told Vanity Fair deputy editor Stephanie Mehta during his Wednesday session at the summit that Time Warner brands like HBO shouldn’t worry about editorial interference from AT&T once the merger goes through because, “I have full awareness that I’m not a media tycoon.” Stephenson also lamented the advertising load in the entertainment and media, and said he wants the company to create more ad value from fewer spots during shows.

Stephenson was also asked about CNN and the future CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker post-merger: “I’ve done hundreds of billions of dollars of deals in my career, and we always pay premiums to get key assets. These are well-run businesses and the priority is not to screw the business up. CNN is doing a lot of good things, and the hope is to keep the key management teams in place.”

That said, Stephenson didn’t explicitly say the word “yes” in his answer to the question of whether or not Zucker specifically will keep his job post-merger, and mentioned that there will likely be some changes due to the “magnitude of such deal.”

On guns and gun control, post Las Vegas, Stephenson wasn’t quite as candid as Iger, and on the role of CEO Stephenson said: “I don’t have an affinity of the moralizing CEOs, and I’m not sure all CEOs have the moral ground. Do I need to come out and speak on every social issue that comes along? Well, we have really large employee bases, so that the extent that it impacts my employees, I do have an obligation to.”

Iger made the most news at his session on Tuesday, wading into what are generally uncharted waters for the longtime Disney chief: Politics.

About 70 Disney employees were in Las Vegas during Sunday night’s massacre, with many of them attending the country music concert that the murderer targeted. One Disney employee was killed and many were injured. The U.S. needs to face its problem with gun violence, he said, citing the long list of shootings.

“Where is the outrage here? This is a huge crisis for our country. We should demand a dialogue about this from our politicians,” said Iger.

The Disney chief, who plans on retiring from the company in 2019, was also asked about ESPN. The network has come under fire recently for being excessively political, say conservative sports fans.