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What the WarnerMedia-Discovery deal means for CNN and Jeff Zucker

Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who will run the combined WarnerMedia-Discovery business, tells CNN's Poppy Harlow, that also being able to offer news content "makes us really unique." WarnerMedia is CNN's parent company.

Posted: May 18, 2021 2:20 AM
Updated: May 18, 2021 2:20 AM

Twenty five years ago, David Zaslav was instrumental in getting the brand-new cable news channel MSNBC into homes, sparking a new era of cable competition.

Now Zaslav is in line to run a portfolio of media properties including CNN, the cable news pioneer.

CNN is set to change corporate hands for the second time in just a few years as AT&T spins off all of WarnerMedia in a transaction with Zaslav's Discovery, Inc.

Under the plan announced on Monday, WarnerMedia and Discovery will be stitched together to create a streaming and cable TV powerhouse. Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery, will become chief of the new standalone company.

As Zaslav and AT&T CEO John Stankey pitched the deal to investors, journalists immediately began speculating about what it could mean for CNN, one of the biggest news providers in the world. Would the newly combined company want to keep the channel? Or would it see news as less-than-central to its mission and try to sell it to yet another buyer?

In interviews, Zaslav said he intends to invest more in CNN, particularly to support a global streaming platform for the news brand.

Batting away chatter about a possible sale of CNN, Zaslav said "it's a core asset" for the future media company, adding, "We're not interested in selling it, and we're going to invest in it."

He also noted that Discovery has been making moves to invest in news in Europe, including through a venture called GB News, a forthcoming channel in the United Kingdom.

Much of Monday's newsroom speculation centered on the future of CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker, who has run the news operation since 2013.

Zucker announced in February that he intended to depart CNN when his contract expires at the end of the year.

But Monday's announcement could very well rewrite his plans. And it already appears to be rewriting WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar's. With Zaslav set to effectively take over his job, Kilar is negotiating an exit from WarnerMedia, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

As for Zucker, he has a decades-long relationship with Zaslav, which was forged when both men worked at NBC in the 1990s.

During an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow after the mega-merger was announced, Zaslav expressed excitement about working with Zucker, who he called a "good friend."

Harlow asked, "Does this mean you want Jeff Zucker to stay, David?"

Zaslav said he has not spoken with Zucker about it "at all," but he complimented Zucker as a "hugely, hugely talented" media executive.

"He and I have to talk about what he wants to do," Zaslav said. "Hoping there will be an opportunity for Jeff to stay with us."

Axios reported on Monday that friends of Zucker's had told the outlet that he might drop his plans to leave at the end of the year.

Zucker, who also runs WarnerMedia's sports holdings, has been mum about the matter. A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment.

Zucker's future at CNN has consequences far beyond internal company politics because of his larger-than-life stature at the network and CNN's crucial newsgathering role around the world.

The Drudge Report led its homepage much of the day Monday with the headline "ZUCKER WILL STAY," even though that's not been stated officially. Drudge linked to the Axios story.

In the short term, nothing will change at CNN or the rest of WarnerMedia. Regulatory review of the deal will likely take a year, the companies have said.

The news network has already been developing a subscription streaming platform, which Zaslav referenced during his interviews on Monday. During a virtual press conference, he said "we intend to fund the direct-to-consumer piece" and grow CNN's brand around the world.

He also committed to upholding CNN's editorial independence -- no small thing after four years of attacks on CNN by former President Trump and his allies. AT&T ensured CNN's autonomy and staunchly defended the news brand amid Trump's smears.

Zaslav noted that his longtime mentor and Discovery board member John Malone, was a cable pioneer right alongside CNN founder Ted Turner.

The prospect of CNN ownership "is something we take so much pride in," Zaslav told Harlow. "So we'll invest in it and try to continue to do what you guys are doing, which is tell great stories and be a great news brand."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1524527

Reported Deaths: 20751
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2077652558
Lake1010411517
Allen946081024
Hamilton73638551
St. Joseph65362761
Elkhart50026632
Vanderburgh48959530
Tippecanoe44411338
Johnson38772527
Hendricks36850462
Porter34709476
Madison29301547
Clark26328328
Vigo25941346
LaPorte23600313
Monroe23478249
Howard22382381
Delaware21877370
Hancock18857220
Bartholomew18433216
Kosciusko18124203
Warrick17207215
Wayne16474303
Floyd16129257
Grant15566299
Morgan14615232
Boone13622138
Noble11983142
Shelby11877152
Dearborn11825113
Henry11771201
Marshall11444171
Dubois11418152
Jackson10772104
Cass10380143
Lawrence10308221
DeKalb10292132
Huntington10277140
Gibson9749126
Montgomery9377144
Knox9162125
Harrison9157117
Whitley886771
Steuben8739105
Jasper8325116
Putnam8306100
Clinton827596
Miami8249135
Jefferson8030127
Wabash7914139
Ripley7278116
Adams6713103
Daviess6661130
Scott663586
White624484
Greene6159112
Clay615275
Decatur6062120
Wells6001120
Jennings600081
Fayette5886122
Posey561648
LaGrange535797
Randolph5171129
Washington511470
Owen5068100
Fountain482580
Spencer457456
Sullivan449866
Starke443986
Fulton440393
Orange435083
Jay419964
Rush418839
Perry397555
Carroll384549
Franklin382850
Vermillion363562
Pike327845
Parke327338
Tipton320675
Blackford275955
Pulaski275375
Newton235461
Brown233556
Benton221521
Crawford220132
Switzerland201414
Martin191822
Warren179522
Union172619
Ohio125216
Unassigned0759

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2496243

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2696772100
Cuyahoga2600613087
Hamilton1742641756
Montgomery1162791651
Summit1084961418
Lucas929121193
Butler82981963
Stark766321431
Lorain63976809
Warren52895489
Mahoning50955930
Lake47462611
Clermont46371452
Delaware40674220
Trumbull39527790
Licking38492416
Medina38487427
Fairfield35469349
Greene33906435
Portage32283366
Clark31960453
Richland29400444
Wood29143301
Allen25702403
Miami23931408
Muskingum23316255
Columbiana22903409
Wayne21965365
Tuscarawas19512428
Erie18531224
Ashtabula18489362
Marion18456235
Scioto17888214
Ross17287260
Pickaway16251181
Hancock16004232
Geauga15456229
Lawrence14746186
Belmont14033248
Union1403384
Huron13838184
Jefferson13519261
Sandusky13180200
Athens12624107
Knox12037201
Seneca11934204
Darke11316202
Ashland11157184
Washington11009172
Auglaize10785147
Crawford10333178
Shelby10308160
Brown9972145
Fulton9661154
Highland9632151
Guernsey9612122
Defiance9486137
Logan9403147
Clinton9299132
Mercer9015112
Madison8971111
Preble8428170
Williams8263138
Putnam8024136
Champaign7974113
Ottawa7909123
Jackson7763121
Perry7415102
Coshocton7345136
Morrow723984
Fayette703292
Pike658489
Hardin6532133
Gallia634391
Adams6159127
Van Wert6025121
Henry598196
Hocking5835105
Wyandot498894
Carroll4961101
Holmes4857167
Paulding421665
Meigs397774
Monroe313868
Harrison296362
Noble295652
Morgan289448
Vinton254646
Unassigned08
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