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“CNN Light—Until It Isn’t”: Jeff Zucker Will Build His News Trojan Horse

Jeff Zucker
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN
Dylan Byers
September 29, 2021

When Jeff Zucker announced plans to launch CNN+, the news channel’s forthcoming direct-to-consumer streaming service, he and his chief digital officer Andrew Morse characterized it as, in Morse’s words, “the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980.” The statement, deemed hyperbolic in some circles, elicited some eye-rolling from industry insiders who know that linear television will remain CNN’s core business and primary focus for at least a few more years to come. During that time, CNN+ will likely be a home for what is essentially CNN bonus material, niche programming and some fliers, like a recently announced show built around Scott Galloway, the exhibitionist professor and entrepreneur.

And yet what Morse said was true in at least one sense: When the cable bundle finally does collapse, presumably a few years from now, CNN+ will be the lifeboat that CNN uses to shepherd itself to a new terra firma on HBO Max—or whatever David Zaslav decides to call the Warner Bros. Discovery streaming service. “CNN will remain a cable outlet for a very long time, and it will make a lot of money doing so,” one veteran television executive said. “The HBO Max bundle will offer CNN+, which will be CNN light—until it isn’t.”