Jeff Zucker Downplays CNN's Ratings Expectations After Election

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CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker

"There's no doubt that we are not going to have the same ratings next year that we have this year. We're not," the CNN chief told an investors conference.

Donald Trump's flame-throwing U.S. presidential campaign has been a ratings boon for CNN and rival news networks.

So good, in fact, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker on Tuesday predicted ratings will fall back down to earth after the current election cycle runs its course in November. "There's no doubt that we are not going to have the same ratings next year, that we have this year. We're not," Zucker told the Nomura 2016 Media, Telecom & Internet Conference in New York City during a session that was webcast.

But the CNN chief added his network is well-placed for ratings and profitability in 2017 because of a broader growth strategy at the network built on "going all in" to cover breaking news as big stories, airing original series like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and dominating the digital space in news and information, especially when targeting younger viewers.

"There's a lot of talk out there about BuzzFeed and Vice and Vox. They're all good," he said. But Zucker pointed to recent digital traffic data that has CNN outpacing upstart platforms. "Who's reaching millennials? It's CNN," Zucker told the conference.

Digital being a successful third leg of the CNN stool is rich coming from a former NBC exec who eight years ago dismissively coined the phrase "trading analog dollars for digital pennies." Fast-forward to today and Zucker argued digital is an increasingly key profit driver for the cable news network.

"More than 25 percent of our global advertising is digital," he told investors. Zucker later revised that figure up to 28 percent. "Over the next five years...as much as 50 percent of our ad sales will be digital," he predicted.

During a 45-minute presentation to investors that never mentioned Donald Trump by name, Zucker argued CNN will emerge from the U.S. election cycle better placed ratings-wise than when it began 2016. He said the network will air 14 CNN Films documentaries in 2017, up from 12 this year.

Zucker said the CNN Films titles allow audiences to view CNN content on-demand, and have opened up a whole new arena of advertisers coming to the cable news channel. And he claimed a resurgent CNN apparently is hot on the heels of Fox News Channel ratings-wise.

"This is our most-watched year ever," he said, before adding: "We're within two share points of Fox News." 

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