When Jim Walton in July announced his intent to step down as president of CNN Worldwide, he said this:
CNN needs new thinking. That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through.
That individual is now emerging, according to the New York Times. Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal, appears likely to be announced soon as Walton’s successor.
Zucker fulfills the Walton criteria. New thinking: Done. New leader: Done. Different perspective, difference experiences, and a new plan: Done, done, done.
But what if Walton understated the challenge? As the Times story notes, CNN needs not so much a few new ideas and a jolt provided by a new face in the executive suite; it’s got identity problems brought on by two cable-news competitors — MSNBC and Fox News — with absolutely no identity problems. It’s to these ideologically aligned outlets that CNN is losing in the ratings race.
Bring on the new ideas and the new thinking, by all means. Restock a limping prime-time presentation. Just don’t be surprised if even a heavy dose of tinkering and reinvention accomplish nothing vis-a-vis the tectonic viewing habits that are moving against it.