will depart the cable news channel at the end of 2021, when his contract expires, network parent WarnerMedia said, ending months of uncertainty about the network’s leadership.
Mr. Zucker, who has run CNN for eight years, signaled internally in recent months that he wasn’t sure he would stay through his current contract. He was unhappy about how his boss, WarnerMedia Chief Executive
had surprised him with a reorganization of the company’s executive ranks, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The two executives have since patched up those disagreements, according to a person familiar with their relationship, who called the disputes growing pains.
“It’s great to have Jeff steering all things CNN in 2021,” Mr. Kilar said in a statement. “As I’ve said before, in my opinion, the two best things to happen to CNN have been Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker.”
Since Mr. Zucker didn’t agree to stay at the network beyond this year, WarnerMedia will soon need to contemplate who will fill his role.
Mr. Zucker’s decision comes as CNN has had a strong run in the ratings since the presidential election. Since the beginning of the year, CNN has ranked No. 1 in prime-time, while MSNBC is in second place and longtime ratings leader Fox News has fallen to third, according to Nielsen. CNN has also led among viewers 25 to 54, the key news demographic for advertisers. Fox News parent
and Wall Street Journal parent
share common ownership.
During the first week of the Biden administration, CNN fell behind Fox News and MSNBC in total prime-time viewership but remained ahead among viewers in the key news demographic, according to Nielsen data.
Mr. Zucker is said to have the support of
who in 2019 gave Mr. Zucker oversight of WarnerMedia’s news and sports properties.
As Mr. Zucker was deciding whether to stay at WarnerMedia toward the end of last year, Mr. Stankey invited Mr. Zucker to join him on a golf outing, people familiar with the situation said. Mr. Kilar wasn’t present.
Revamping CNN’s video-streaming capabilities will be among Mr. Zucker’s biggest challenges during his final year at the network. Messrs. Zucker and Kilar are exploring creating a subscription service that will carry CNN programming, the Journal has reported.
During a call with employees Thursday morning, Mr. Zucker said that he wanted to stay at CNN to help the network find its footing after a tumultuous year, alluding to the Covid-19 pandemic. “This organization has been through a lot. I’d like to be here to get us all back to a new normal, one that feels much more like it once did around here,” Mr. Zucker said.
Mr. Zucker has maintained his hands-on leadership style in recent weeks, according to CNN employees, who took Mr. Zucker’s engagement as a sign that he had no plans to depart imminently. In January, the network made adjustments to its weekend and prime-time schedule, an indicator that Mr. Zucker was deeply involved in programming decisions.
Mr. Zucker, a media veteran, had a long run at NBCUniversal, rising from a wunderkind producer at NBC’s “Today” show to become CEO of the company, before leaving after
took control in 2011.
He joined CNN in January 2013 and quickly put his stamp on the network. He reshuffled its anchor lineup, hiring journalists including Jake Tapper, Alisyn Camerota, Chris Cuomo and Brian Stelter.
During the run-up to the 2016 election, Mr. Zucker was criticized for giving then-candidate
too much airtime. After Mr. Trump was elected, he steered the network toward critical coverage of the president.
CNN, which thrives on breaking news, fared well in the ratings last year as stories like the Covid-19 pandemic, racial justice protests and the presidential election dominated the headlines.
Mr. Zucker has stayed at WarnerMedia while other division chiefs departed after AT&T’s 2018 acquisition of the media company. Former HBO Chairman
left WarnerMedia in early 2019, as did
who ran the Turner cable unit, and
who ran movie studio Warner Bros.
—Drew FitzGerald contributed to this article.
Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com
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