CNN president to government: 'regulate Google and Facebook or our industry dies'

CNN Jeff Zucker asks for government regulation of the duopoly / David Adamson

The president of CNN has called on the US government to do more to regulate Facebook and Google, saying their dominance is the “biggest issue facing the growth of journalism in the years ahead.”

Addressing attendees in a keynote speech at Mobile World Congress today (26 February), Jeff Zucker, who has been at the helm of CNN for the past five years, said that US regulators are overly concerned with the effect that mega-mergers like those of AT&T and Time Warner, or Fox and Disney, will have on the market. But they are missing the real problem, he said.

“For some reason, no one is looking at the monopolies that are Google and Facebook. That’s where the government should be looking and thinking about how everyone else survives,” he added. “That’s the biggest issue facing the growth of journalism in the years ahead.”

Though Zucker proudly claimed CNN, which is owned by Turner Broadcasting, saw revenues increase 30% last year – and it’s on target for similar growth this year – those gains could be greater.

The broadcaster was recently forced to restructure its digital news operation in the US, resulting in the redundancy of around 50 of its staff in video production, programming and product development.

At the time, the strength of the "digital duopoly" was cited alongside “overly aggressive” internal financial targets which saw CNN "try to do too much too fast."

Zucker’s solution, beyond more regulation of the duopoly, is more engagement from advertisers. He issued a call to arms to the ad industry to work with the news broadcaster on how to better monetise its content.

“There’s no question that in a Google and Facebook world, monetisation of digital and mobile continues to be more difficult than we would have expected,” he continued.

“But it’s harder than it should be. We need help. We need help from the advertising world and from the technology world to find new ways to fund content otherwise good journalism will go away.”

Amazon and Netflix

While Zucker is concerned over the threat of Google and Facebook to CNN’s future business, the encroachment of Amazon and Netflix is less worrying.

With its focus on live news and sports, Zucker said the brand has “never been doing better” and the rise of OTT services hasn’t had a “dramatic effect” on its performance, leading him to, for the time being, believe that it’s immune their rise.

Its digital audience is growing thanks to its news and sports content, Zucker added, and it's increasingly reaching a younger demographic. The average age of a CNN viewer on TV is 59, dropping to 44 on digital platforms and 37 on mobile.

However, Amazon’s apparent interest in acquiring sports rights and Netflix’s increasing investment into original documentary commissions – an area where CNN does play – means Zucker does have one eye on them.

“We measure CNN’s output of news in terms of house, not days or weeks, and that makes it harder for platforms like Amazon and Netflix to compete with what we do. Our immediacy, relevance, and ability to deliver information globally differentiates us from them,” he said.

“Can they get there? I wouldn’t put it past them. They’ve proven to be able to do whatever they want. It’s an expensive proposition but money is no object for them.”

This month’s issue of The Drum magazine focuses on the mobile sector with insights on the democratisation of photography and interview with US recording artist Ryan Leslie who shared his personal mobile number with the world to help his fan engagement and a look at the longevity of the low-cost smartphone market in China and India. Buy your copy of this issue and other copies through The Drum website.

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