CNN President Jeff Zucker said his network’s 24/7 news coverage of all things President Trump has been a major boon for ratings, making 2018 the network’s most successful year ever.
In an interview with Vanity Fair for the magazine’s December issue, released online Thursday, Mr. Zucker said CNN’s ratings tend to dwindle every time they venture away from coverage of the administration, so they try to stick to giving viewers what they want.
“People say all the time, ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about Trump. I’ve had too much Trump,’ ” he said. “And yet at the end of the day, all they want to do is talk about Trump.
“We’ve seen that, anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away. So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates,” he said.
CNN’s prime-time lineup, which features anchors extremely critical of the president, including Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo, and its strategy of covering the administration on a near-constant basis has been a major ratings booster. Mr. Trump routinely criticizes the network for its coverage of him.
While CNN still trails right-leaning Fox News and left-leaning MSNBC in prime-time audience size, the average number of people watching on a given day has been above 700,000 each year since 2016, compared to around 400,000 from before Mr. Trump was elected, Vanity Fair reported. CNN is also expected to see 2018 as its most profitable year ever.
“When I came on, someone made a joke that I was starting at the best time, because things couldn’t get worse from a ratings perspective. We did not have a news cycle to ride,” Erin Burnett, who joined CNN’s prime-time lineup in 2011, told Vanity Fair. Now, she continued, “we’ve become a character in this story.”
Mr. Zucker argued that “the nature of the news cycle, the nature of the current president, and the nature of the world we live in” has dramatically changed the media landscape and given a major boost to cable news channels across the board. But will it remain once Mr. Trump is out of office?
“It’s a question we think about a lot,” Mr. Zucker said. “Just looking at the past 25 years, these last three are among the most successful in CNN history. My view is this: Obviously our audience numbers will not stay at this level when he’s not president, either in two years or six years. Nobody should be pretending otherwise. I do believe, though, that we have reset the playing field so that our audience levels will be significantly higher than they were.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper added, “I don’t take any joy in saying this, but I would like to disabuse you of the notion that things are ever going back to normal.”