CNN president Jeff Zucker discusses the future of the brand, its focus on mobile, and the importance of understanding "where our bread is buttered."
FORTUNE — Jeff Zucker is famous for saying that the TV business couldn’t afford to trade “analog dollars for digital pennies.” That was a few years ago, when Zucker was CEO of NBC Universal.
Now, Zucker is president of CNN Worldwide and says that digital television has gone past pennies and dimes. “We’re probably beyond quarters,” he said during an on-stage conversation with Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.
It’s not only dollars but also audiences that are pushing CNN into the digital world. More people got news of the birth of the royal baby in England on CNN’s digital assets (12 million unique visitors and 85 million page views on CNN.com, as well as 5 million video streams) than on television, Zucker said. “We are not going to care what screen you are watching CNN on,” Zucker said. “Mobile is probably the most important part of our future.” At the same time, he said, CNN still cannot afford to ignore that its television business remains the company’s cash cow. As CNN embraces digital, it has to “understand where our bread is buttered.”
Zucker took over the top job at CNN in January amid a ratings slump due in part from intensifying competition from Fox News and MSNBC. He says ratings have improved dramatically, the cable news operation still has “a long ways to go.” (CNN is owned by Fortune’s parent company, Time Warner TWX )
Part of his approach is to broaden the coverage, and presumably the appeal, of the network. Among his early moves was to ditch the “CNN=politics” tag line. “We have two domestic competitors that are all about politics,” he said referring to MSNBC and Fox. CNN will continue to cover Washington and the Middle East aggressively, he said, but will also devote more resources to entertainment, business, sports and culture.
Going back to the digital business, Serwer asked Zucker whether he foresaw a day when analog and digital would be on par in terms of ad dollars. “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “Who is to say what the world looks like in 10 years?”