Jeff Zucker will take over as president of CNN Worldwide in January.

Story highlights

Jeff Zucker to become new head of CNN Worldwide

Zucker is a news and programming veteran who rose to head of NBC Universal

While producer of NBC's "Today" show, helped make it No. 1

Zucker is "passionate" about journalism

CNN  — 

Veteran news producer and former NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker will become the president of CNN Worldwide in January, the network announced Thursday.

“Jeff’s experience as a news executive is unmatched for its breadth and success,” said Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, CNN’s parent company. “In a career that has seen significant professional success in both broadcast and cable, Jeff has demonstrated his ability to run multiple lines of business and fiercely defend journalists and journalism.”

Zucker succeeds Jim Walton, who has headed CNN Worldwide since 2003. As president, Zucker will oversee 23 branded news and information businesses, including CNN’s U.S. television network, CNN International, HLN and CNN Digital. The latter includes, one of the world’s leading news websites.

“I am thrilled to join the distinguished team of journalists across the worldwide platforms of CNN,” Zucker said in a statement. “The global reach and scale of the CNN brand is unparalleled in all of news. Outside of my family and the Miami Dolphins, there is nothing I am as passionate about as journalism.”

His first challenge is likely to be turning around CNN/US television ratings, which have been declining in recent years.

Zucker, who had most recently produced Katie Couric’s new daytime talk show, had been widely rumored to be in line for the position. It’s been that kind of whirlwind life for Zucker, who has had a rocket-like rise in the news and entertainment business.

Zucker, who was born and raised in the Miami area, started his professional career as a researcher for NBC’s Olympics operation in 1986. Within three years he was a producer for the “Today” show; three years after that, in 1992, he became its executive producer at age 26. He helped propel the morning show to the No. 1 position, which it consistently held through the rest of his tenure.

In 2000 he was promoted to the head of NBC Entertainment – essentially the network’s programming chief – and followed that with continued ascensions until becoming head of NBC Universal in 2007, overseeing the broadcast network including its news division and all its cable entities, such as MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo.

Zucker had his struggles during his latter years at NBC, with the broadcast network falling into fourth place in the ratings and a much-publicized controversy over late-night programming involving Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno.

Nevertheless, his news judgment and leadership made the “Today” show the most profitable show on television.

Zucker’s portfolio will include all CNN networks and digital properties. The original 24-hour news network, CNN has the greatest reach of any domestic news network. The CNN brand on television extends to 100 million households in the United States and 265 million households abroad, with significant online and mobile reach and a global newsgathering network with 45 locations.