Former NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker has been named the new head of CNN Worldwide, where he will try to bring a ratings boost to a network widely praised for its newsgathering but not for capturing audiences' attention.
Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of CNN parent company Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., announced Zucker's hiring Thursday morning. The announcement was expected after several news reports earlier this week. He replaces succeeds Jim Walton, who has headed CNN Worldwide since 2003.
Zucker will begin in January. He will lead 23 news and information businesses that include CNN/U.S., CNN International, CNN.com and HLN and reach more than 2 billion people in some 200 countries around the world.
But his most daunting job may be gaining viewers for CNN's flagship network, which has fallen behind opinionated rivals like Fox News and MSNBC as it aspires to avoid falling into a left- or right-wing ideology.
Zucker's first statement suggested he would emphasize solid reporting over ratings grabs.
"Outside of my family and the Miami Dolphins, there is nothing I am as passionate about as journalism," he said. "I spent the most rewarding years of my career as a journalist, and it’s where I look forward to spending many more. I am grateful to Phil Kent for this opportunity, and I’m excited to return to daily newsgathering and compelling storytelling in a place that values those above all else."
Zucker, who rose to head of NBCUniversal after 25 years with the company, left at the end of 2010 as Comcast completed its acquisition of it. Though NBC fell to fourth place in the ratings during Zucker's time at the top, the company's cable properties flourished.
At CNN, Zucker will again manage a large portfolio of channels even as he tries to puff up the most visible one.
The former executive producer of "Today," now executive produces Katie Couric's daytime talk show "Katie." The two worked together for years on "Today."
“Jeff’s experience as a news executive is unmatched for its breadth and success,” said Kent. “He built and sustained the number-one brand in morning news, and under his watch NBC’s signature news programming set a standard for quality and professionalism. As a programmer, a brand-builder and a leader, he will bring energy and new thinking to CNN. I couldn’t be happier to welcome him or more excited about what he’ll accomplish here."