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Trump's attacks on CNN aren't hurting it one bit

President Trump keeps calling CNN fake news, but his administration’s positive effect on the cable news network’s business is real.

CNN President Jeff Zucker said Thursday that the recent ratings lift fueled by viewer fascination with the early days of the Trump presidency is putting the Turner Broadcasting unit on track for another record year of profitability.

“There is a tremendous amount of interest,” Zucker said during a press lunch held Thursday.

Zucker said CNN has set new highs in profit in the last three years, and 2017 will be no different. The network budgeted for a 25% decline in ratings for 2017 because 2016 was boosted by the unpredictable and often bizarre presidential election campaign. But the ratings and demand for ad time on the channel have remained strong in the early part of 2017. Zucker said CNN’s profit will be up again, hitting $1.1 billion.

In the first seven weeks of 2017, CNN’s ratings are up 36% over the same period last year and 51% in the 25- to 54-year-old age group that advertisers seek most when they buy news programming. CNN’s competitors Fox News and MSNBC have seen similar increases. The ratings boon has to do with the flurry of activity coming out of the Oval Office.

“2016 was the biggest year in the history of cable news and 2017 will perhaps be even bigger,” Zucker said. “Three years ago people were suggesting that cable news was on its last legs and writing the obituaries for cable news. Now there is nothing more relevant in the landscape than these cable news networks. They are live, relevant and in the center of what’s going on. They are as important and as strong as anything in television.”

Zucker said the Trump administration’s so-called ban on having its officials appear on CNN programs has not hurt ratings at all. President Trump’s frequent criticisms of the network whenever he is unhappy with coverage has not discouraged the troops either.

“Our folks are just doing their jobs,” Zucker said. “They are not being intimidated. I would say morale is incredibly high because they are incredibly proud of the job that CNN is doing in leading the way in many of these stories.”

A recent research study conducted by CNN found that Trump's barbs aimed at the network have not damaged consumer perception of the brand, Zucker said.

The media executive was criticized during the early months of the Republican primary campaign for giving Trump too much of a platform on CNN. Zucker later acknowledged that the network spent too much time on some of Trump’s campaign speeches and rallies.

But since Trump was elected, CNN has been among the most aggressive journalistic outlets in reporting on a U.S. intelligence dossier that held unverified compromising information gathered for the Russian government about the new president. Trump has been on the warpath against CNN ever since.

As Zucker headed out of the restaurant in Time Warner Center where the press lunch was held, the CNN feed of Trump’s news conference was on a big screen behind the bar. Trump was berating the media and CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. It’s likely that this conflict is far from over.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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