Source: New York Post
AT&T will look to “neutralize” CNN President Jeff Zucker after it buys Time Warner, The Post has learned.
The telco has decided to make the move after CNN has come under fire in recent weeks for highly publicized missteps — including botched reports tied to the federal probe of possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, according to three sources familiar with the thinking of AT&T brass.
The missteps — which also include a profane anti-Trump tweet by Reza Aslan, a CNN host — have made CNN too polarizing an asset for execs at the blue chip telecom giant, a source said.
Aslan saw his CNN show, “Believer,” get canceled in the wake of the tweet.
The $85 billion acquisition of CNN parent Time Warner by AT&T could win antitrust approval by the Justice Department in the next 60 days, sources said.
“There was early talk about the way Zucker managed that wasn’t a good fit for the new organization,” one source said. “They were eyeing ways to neutralize him.”
That desire leaves Zucker facing an uncertain future that includes the possibility of getting unceremoniously dumped, one source said.
Other potential scenarios include AT&T kicking the 52-year-old executive upstairs with a corporate title that strips him of any power over CNN — or a sale of the network that would let AT&T wash its hands of any future CNN messes.
“The news business doesn’t seem to be central to AT&T’s content strategy,” Craig Moffett, a co-founder of independent media research firm MoffettNathanson. “They seem much more interested in the entertainment brands. If selling CNN would make regulators happy, they’ll sell it. I can’t imagine AT&T would let CNN stand in the way of securing approval for the merger.”
Zucker could also cash out his significant holdings of Time Warner stock and walk away from the network filthy rich, media execs said.
AT&T, when asked Wednesday about Zucker’s future at CNN, seemed to dodge the question.
“We value all of Time Warner’s assets and strongly believe that the combination of our two companies will help ignite a new wave of innovation in media and entertainment,” Larry Solomon, SVP of corporate communications at AT&T, told The Post in a statement.
To be sure, AT&T can’t make any personnel moves at Time Warner until the deal closes.
If AT&T idles Zucker, it will be shunting aside an executive who more than doubled operating profits, to roughly $1 billion, over his tenure and just produced one of its highest-rated first quarters ever.
At the same time, CNN, despite the ratings rise, has fallen to third place among total viewers in both full-day and prime time periods, Nielsen data for the second quarter, out Wednesday, revealed.
CNN was No. 2 in the coveted demographic of ages 25 to 49 in full day — but was third in prime time in the demo.
“What would be the reason to fire him?” one CNN insider asked. If it did so, AT&T would risk losing credibility — and perhaps top CNN talent.
Reps at Time Warner declined comment.