A year ago, CNN was positioning itself as ready to take on Vice and BuzzFeed in the digital space. Now, the company is rightsizing as it prepares for AT&T’s embrace.
Besides the occasional Twitter-issued invective from the president and the errant journalism scandal, CNN has seemed largely indomitable during the last couple of years. Since taking over the flagging network in 2013, President Jeff Zucker has championed original documentary programming, enhanced the brand’s journalistic efforts, and moved away from some of the more promiscuous tactics of cable news that defined his early tenure—such as the occasionally breathless coverage of a tragically marooned cruise ship. He’s adroitly leveraged the daily rapture of the Donald Trump White House into the network’s highest revenues and ratings in its history. He’s also attempted to thrust the brand headlong into the digital space, with investments in video start-ups like Beme and Great Big Story, and the expansion of verticals such as CNN Politics and CNN Media, Brian Stelter’s digital hub that dovetails with the Sunday show Reliable Sources and creates a late-evening newsletter that has become essential reading for members of the media-entertainment elite. The New York Times reported that the digital operation generated $300 million in revenue in 2016.