A little over a year ago, Warner Bros. Discovery took control of CNN and newly installed Chief Executive Chris Licht vowed to remake the cable news network to better compete against its top rivals Fox News and MSNBC.
That effort, which included revamping the programming lineup, firing some anchors, and trying to return to its news reporting versus opinionated news, failed as Licht was fired after just fourteen months on the job.
Licht knew that CNN couldn’t compete in the polarized cable news arena, where Fox News dominated the ratings with its conservative slant and MSNBC championing liberal viewpoints, so he tried to return the network to its roots of more straight reporting with some entertainment-type programming thrown in to distinguish the network from its peers. That effort, though badly needed, failed because CNN employees revolted against the changes and clashed with Licht to eventually force him out.
But even with Licht gone, the challenges remain. CNN, along with cable television in general, continues to face financial pressure from cord-cutters who have made their preference known for the a-la-carte streaming model in an effort to cut costs and improve their viewing experience.
While CNN is still hugely profitable, ad revenue has dropped from over $900 million in 2020 to less than $600 million in 2022, though it should get a boost as election spending ramps up this year. The estimated profits of over $1 billion a few years ago has dropped to $800 million. The loss in profits is taking place at the same that the parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, has seen its stock price drop more than 40% since April 2022 because streaming companies are losing their luster on Wall Street.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav still believes in Licht’s “show both sides of every issue” goal, but also knows that the situation is difficult because of the unprofitable digital news operation and sagging ratings. No matter who runs the network, the road ahead is rocky and tumultuous for Licht’s replacement.
If Zaslav is really serious about giving both sides of a story, then he should take the bold step to clean house by purging most of the on-air talent and producers that have an entrenched liberal mindset. I am assuming there are few if any conservatives at the network, but it should give the network a serious cultural reset. There are enough talented journalists that CNN could hire to accomplish this and give viewers the straight news, in what has become an increasingly polarized media environment.
I think even CNN founder Ted Turner would agree with me on this.