Disgraced former CNN boss Jeff Zucker said his new investment firm could potentially bid for the all-news cable channel if parent company Warner Bros. Discovery puts it up for sale.
The comments by Zucker, who is CEO of a $1 billion private equity firm RedBird IMI, appear to confirm earlier reports that the onetime network executive has had his eye on CNN following his ouster as president last year after it was revealed he had a years-long relationship with a top subordinate.
In June, The Post cited industry sources who predicted that Zucker would make a bid for CNN as early as this fall — particularly due to the potential viewership boom in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections.
Zucker told the Yahoo Finance Invest Conference on Tuesday that CNN was “not for sale” and that buying the network was “not something we’re actively thinking about.”
But he then mused that if the channel did come onto the market it would be a “fantastic asset.”
“Some day if it were available, like any other great asset, we would look at it,” Zucker, who spent nearly a decade at CNN after rising the corporate ranks at NBC, said.
“That’s not to say yes or no, it’s just to say it’s a great asset and if the time came, we would look at it.”
Zucker’s comments were reported by the news site Mediaite.
Last week, Zucker told the Financial Times that while life has become “simpler” since his ouster, he acknowledged that he wished he was at the helm of the network during a major news story, such as the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and their aftermath.
“I think it’s an incredibly important story … this is really the only time since I’ve left where I’ve regretted not being part of it,” Zucker told FT.
RedBird IMI, a joint venture backed by RedBird Capital and Abu Dhabi-based private investment fund International Media Investments, tapped Zucker to lead the group as it seeks to acquire sports, media and entertainment assets.
The future of CNN has been the subject of rampant speculation, particularly in light of Warner Bros. Discovery’s $3.5 billion cost-cutting spree following the $43 billion mega-merger between the two media giants.
David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, has insisted that CNN, which has seen its profits slump in recent years due to a decline in viewership, is not for sale.
But Zaslav’s decision to short-circuit the nascent CNN+ streaming service as well as layoffs at the network have fueled speculation that he could look to unload the once-dominant cable giant.
Under Zaslav’s watch, CNN has been engulfed in turmoil. Following the ouster of Zucker, Zaslav installed former Stephen Colbert showrunner Chris Licht in his stead.
But Licht’s 14-month-long reign as CNN boss was marked by low ratings, the exit of longtime anchor Don Lemon following a series of on-air scandals and a newsroom that largely maintained its loyalty to Zucker.
Licht was fired after a damning magazine expose in The Atlantic portrayed him as a thin-skinned, aloof executive who was constantly looking over his shoulder.
Zaslav recently named Mark Thompson, a former BBC executive, as Licht’s successor.
Last month, Zucker’s unit bought a minority stake in online newsletter Front Office Sports.
The size of the investment was not disclosed. Bloomberg News reported the deal valued FOS at about $40 million.
Most recently, it was valued at about $25 million when Crain Communications bought a minority stake in it in February last year.
The Front Office investment marks Zucker’s third since starting RedBird IMI, though he’s eyed a slew of other deals.
In June, Zucker was reportedly circling the Washington Post, Semafor, Puck and Air Mail — the media company founded by former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter — though he has yet to announce any deals with the media properties.
Additional Reporting by Shannon Thaler