CNN job cuts coming as CEO Chris Licht concludes enterprise overview

Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide.

Courtesy: CNN

CNN CEO Chris Licht began conducting a enterprise overview of the information community when he agreed to take the job in April.

That analysis wrapped up final week, in line with individuals aware of the matter, and CNN workers are about to seek out out Licht’s conclusions.

Licht faces many challenges at CNN. Like all cable information networks, the enterprise is shrinking. CNN makes cash off promoting and pay-TV subscriber charges. However as tens of millions of People cancel conventional pay TV every year in favor of streaming companies, CNN virtually actually cannot increase subscription charges at a quick sufficient clip to make up for declining viewer numbers.

CNN’s revenue is ready to drop under $1 billion this yr for the primary time since 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president. Guardian firm Warner Bros. Discovery‘s valuation has almost been lower in half this yr as buyers have lowered their expectations on world streaming subscriber development and macroeconomic pressures have pressured promoting income.

Licht has been given a mandate from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to remodel CNN, which the community boss is internally referring to as a “proper sizing” of the enterprise. Lots of Licht’s job cuts are nonetheless to return this yr, in line with individuals aware of the matter, who requested to not be named as a result of the choices are non-public.

Hours after this story was revealed, Licht despatched a memo to all employees confirming the top of his six-month enterprise and signaling extra layoffs will probably be coming.

“There may be widespread concern over the worldwide financial outlook, and we should issue that danger into our long-term planning,” Licht wrote. “All this collectively will imply noticeable change to this group. That, by definition, is unsettling. These modifications won’t be straightforward as a result of they’ll have an effect on individuals, budgets, and tasks.”

Licht’s overview is an element of a bigger effort spearheaded by Zaslav, who has instructed division heads all through the corporate to rethink their items and discover methods to chop prices. Greater than 1,000 individuals will probably be laid off by Warner Bros. Discovery earlier than the top of the yr, stated the individuals, who requested to not be named as a result of the discussions are non-public and ongoing. Warner Bros. Discovery has about 40,000 workers.

Licht does not have a selected order to chop a certain quantity of jobs or save a selected share of spending. However he is planning to chop elements of CNN that he have grow to be bloated over time, stated the individuals. A CNN spokesperson declined to remark.

Among the reductions have already occurred. Licht has in the reduction of on CNN’s audio division to get rid of unpopular podcasts. He is shuttered CNN’s NFT market. And his first job was to kill CNN+, the corporate’s fledgling streaming service strongly supported by former CNN head Jeff Zucker.

There have additionally been modifications to the community’s content material. In Could, Licht instructed CNN’s TV manufacturing employees to cease overusing “Breaking Information” banners. He is altering CNN’s lineup one present at a time, beginning with shifting anchor Jake Tapper from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and shifting Don Lemon from 11 pm to co-host “CNN This Morning,” the community’s refurbished morning information present, together with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. CNN’s new morning present debuts Nov. 1.

However Licht’s largest problem — greater than accelerating revenue or income or retooling his programming lineup or successful scores battles over Fox Information and MSNBC — could also be to win the belief of his personal workers.

“When [Zaslav] referred to as and provided me the job, he instructed me what he was searching for out of CNN,” Licht stated in a quick interview this month. “And I stated, ‘That is precisely the type of community I wish to see.’ There is no daylight between his imaginative and prescient for this community and my imaginative and prescient for this community. The one cause why I took this job is as a result of it was him in cost. I assumed, I can ship this for him.”

Shifting from Zucker

A part of Licht’s problem as the brand new chief of CNN is he isn’t the outdated chief.

Jeff Zucker wasn’t simply the top of CNN. He was the driving pressure of the community, concerned in each determination of significance each day. He ran editorial calls, labored carefully with each present’s anchors and producers, and offered every day suggestions. He was beloved by many workers who appreciated his consideration to element and care for his or her careers. CNN media reporters Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy referred to as him “a singular determine in American media” the day after he resigned. His closest comparability, when it comes to management over a cable information community, might have been the late Roger Ailes at Fox Information.

Licht is purposefully main CNN otherwise than Zucker. He is avoiding saying what he thinks about particular person present decisions, in line with individuals aware of his management fashion. Licht has stated in non-public conferences that he is making an attempt to empower govt producers and present producers to make choices by themselves. He needs workers to listen to marching orders from direct managers relatively than him. That is a major change for present leaders who’ve been conditioned to attend for Zucker’s blessing earlier than appearing.

Jeff Zucker, left, and David Zaslav

Chris Kleponis | Bloomberg through Getty Pictures; CNBC

“I like the management room, and I like the sensation of sending a textual content and seeing it present up on display screen 10 minutes later, however there’s a lot taking place that we’ll be paralyzed if everyone seems to be ready to listen to from me,” stated Licht. “That is simply not how I function.”

Some workers have not been certain what to make of Licht’s hands-off fashion. They concern he is evaluating them — which he has been. However Licht’s lack of suggestions can be strategic. He might solely be capable of get his workers to belief him with time.

There’s additionally a hangover impact from the sudden collapse of CNN+, which Zucker pushed relentlessly as the way forward for the enterprise. Lots of of workers have been employed solely to lose their jobs or reapply elsewhere within the firm. The streaming service served as a north star for the way forward for CNN. That is all of a sudden gone, leaving an worker base confused about CNN’s future.

A brand new period

Licht’s method is not the one factor altering. He needs CNN to cowl tales extra like a newspaper and fewer like Politico, in line with individuals aware of his pondering. Which means extra tales that a median household would focus on across the dinner desk and fewer obsessive concentrate on politics. He’d wish to cowl extra enterprise, expertise and even sports activities, stated the individuals, who requested to not be named as a result of the discussions have been non-public.

Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO, CNN Worldwide speaks onstage throughout the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront 2022 present at The Theater at Madison Sq. Backyard on Could 18, 2022 in New York Metropolis.

Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Pictures

That is significantly vital for moments in time that are not dominated by crises. Certainly one of Licht’s main complaints with CNN lately has been the community’s tendency to hover in outrage, stated the individuals. Pushing conversations to the acute on a subject reminiscent of a brand new coronavirus mutation might make for compelling tv, but when People are shifting ahead with their days and never even talking about it, it is not proper for CNN, stated the individuals.

Licht is already considering how one can cowl Trump if he runs for president once more in 2024. Licht hasn’t instructed anchors or reporters to grow to be extra centrist, opposite to well-liked perception, in line with individuals aware of his conversations with expertise. He does need viewpoints from either side of the political divide to seem on CNN. However he will not stand for friends who push disinformation, he stated.

“The analogy I like to make use of is a few individuals like rain, some individuals don’t love rain. We should always give area to that. However we won’t have somebody who comes on and says it is not raining,” Licht stated.

It will require CNN anchors, reporters and bookers to steer friends into subjects they’re certified to talk about. CNN will not ban friends who’ve supported the false declare that the 2020 election was stolen, however the community will try and maintain conversations with these individuals in protected zones of fact, stated individuals aware of Licht’s pondering.

The analogy I like to make use of is a few individuals like rain, some individuals don’t love rain. We should always give area to that. However we won’t have somebody who comes on and says it is not raining.

The concept Licht would steer CNN towards the political proper is considerably ironic – and unsuitable, Licht stated – provided that he credit then-Vice President Joe Biden with saving his life in 2010. Licht had a cerebral hemorrhage that almost killed him when he was 38. On the time, he was producing NBC’s “Morning Joe.” Biden helped discover a high neurosurgeon for Licht on the behest of “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski. Licht would ultimately write a guide concerning the incident and the way it formed it life, titled “What I Realized Once I Nearly Died.” The Each day Beast requested Licht in 2011 how he would struggle off criticism from conservatives who believed Biden’s intervention in his care might bias him towards a Democratic agenda.

Relatively than pushing politics, Licht has instructed anchors he is searching for authenticity on air. That angle is what prompted him to heart the community’s primetime lineup round Tapper. Licht pushed Stephen Colbert to faucet into his actual persona as host of CBS’ “The Late Present With Stephen Colbert,” CNN content material chief Ryan Kadro instructed CNBC earlier this yr.

However Tapper’s present has struggled out of the gate, persistently shedding to his competitors for complete viewers to MSNBC’s “Alex Wagner Tonight” and Fox Information’ “Hannity.” CNN executives are writing off the early poor efficiency to Tapper experimenting with the shape, saying he is effectually doing a pilot present every night time. However it’s potential primetime viewers aren’t searching for the identical factor Licht needs — a no-nonsense host who steers clear of concern.

Months of unease

CNN has about 4,500 workers. For them, the final 18 months have been rife with chaos and trauma.

CNN has been via a litany of destabilizing company occasions courting again to final Could. That is when AT&T introduced it could merge WarnerMedia, then CNN’s father or mother firm, with Discovery. Together with the transaction, Zaslav introduced he’d substitute Jason Kilar as WarnerMedia’s new CEO.

Mergers virtually at all times trigger change. However John Malone, a longtime Discovery shareholder who now sits on the mixed firm’s board, injected a jolt of uncertainty into CNN’s tradition in a November interview with CNBC.

“I wish to see CNN evolve again to the type of journalism that it began with, and really have journalists, which might be distinctive and refreshing,” stated the billionaire media mogul and longtime chairman of Liberty Media, which is a serious shareholder in Warner Bros. Discovery.

CNN job cuts coming as CEO Chris Licht concludes enterprise overview

The feedback heightened nervousness for a lot of CNN staffers, in line with six individuals who have been on the firm on the time. If Malone did not suppose CNN had “precise” journalists, who have been the almost 1,000 reporters and editors around the globe employed by CNN?

Initially, there was a way CNN might keep away from main layoffs or a strategic revamp as a result of Zucker was longtime associates with Zaslav. Zucker believed he was in line to take a good greater function on the firm, in line with individuals aware of his thought course of.

However Zucker abruptly resigned in February after failing to reveal an inside relationship with CNN chief advertising and marketing officer Allison Gollust. The surprising revelation arose from due diligence associated to a different CNN scandal — anchor Chris Cuomo shedding his job after the community discovered he improperly suggested his brother, then-N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about how one can deal with a sequence of sexual harassment allegations.

Zucker’s departure would have been troublesome to navigate below any circumstances given his outsized function. However it was significantly unhealthy timing solely three months earlier than the merger, which might convey a model new company management crew.

The brutally quick lifetime of CNN+

Even worse, CNN was simply months away from launching CNN+. Merger legislation did not permit Discovery to debate technique with CNN management. However CNBC reported instantly upon Zucker’s departure that Zaslav wasn’t bought on the concept of CNN+ as a standalone streaming service.

Nonetheless, with no directive to cease shifting forward with the launch, CNN+ head Andrew Morse saved pushing ahead. CNN+ debuted on March 29, backed by $300 million of funding. On April 8, WarnerMedia formally merged with Discovery, placing Zaslav in cost. Lower than two weeks later, WarnerMedia introduced it could shut down CNN+. The streaming service lasted for 32 days.

Zaslav referred to as in Licht about three weeks earlier than his beforehand introduced begin date of Could 1 to bless the dying of CNN+. He needed to inform a whole lot of CNN workers they’d lose their jobs earlier than he even formally began.

In August, Licht ended Sunday afternoon media present “Dependable Sources” and fired Stelter, who had years left on his contract. The choice was Licht’s, not Zaslav’s or Malone’s, in line with individuals aware of the matter. Final month, Licht let go CNN White Home correspondent John Harwood, a former reporter and editor for CNBC.

Each Stelter and Harwood had been outspoken Trump critics. Given Malone’s feedback, observers and workers have assumed Licht is surgically eradicating those that have coloured the CNN model as liberal over the previous six years.

CEO of Discovery Communications David Zaslav arrives for the Allen & Firm Solar Valley Convention on July 06, 2021 in Solar Valley, Idaho.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Pictures

However Licht stated that is “painfully inaccurate.” A part of Licht’s determination to get rid of “Dependable Sources” was his perception media protection was higher served digitally on relatively than dedicating a one-hour Sunday present to it, as he defined in a response to a column by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Nonetheless, Stelter wasn’t provided an opportunity to remain at CNN in any capability, whilst a digital media reporter, in line with individuals aware of the matter. There’s clear signaling profit to these turned off by CNN by shortly shifting on from those that gained recognition for being anti-Trump. And Licht does not run from the concept that CNN’s model was tarnished throughout the Trump years.

“The model is probably the most trusted model on this planet in the case of journalism, proper up there with the BBC,” Licht stated. “I believe what occurred slightly bit right here up to now was it is easy to take the short sugar excessive of scores and outrage. So, I am making an attempt to do no hurt to an ideal model.”

Investing in digital

A merger, a sudden CEO departure, a right away finish to a digital streaming service, a whole lot of layoffs, and the prospect of extra to return – it is no marvel CNN’s workforce is strolling on eggshells, a reality Licht and his crew have privately acknowledged.

Licht depends on a reasonably tight interior circle of CNN veterans and new hires for strategic choices. He is introduced in Kadro, head of technique Chris Marlin and head of communications Kris Coratti in current months, whereas elevating Virginia Moseley to go of editorial. Amy Entelis, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz additionally stay at CNN in key roles — the trio requested to run the community after Zucker departed.

Licht has been a TV producer his total skilled life, beginning in 1995 at KNBC in Los Angeles. In 2007, he took his first nationwide job, serving to to create “Morning Joe” for MSNBC. He left that function in 2011 to be the vice chairman of programming at CBS Information and the chief producer of “CBS This Morning.” In 2016, Licht made the weird shift from information to comedy, taking over an govt producing job at CBS’ “The Late Present with Stephen Colbert.”

Licht plans to ramp up funding in, which his crew feels has been mismanaged as a result of the entire digital cash and energy went to CNN+, the individuals stated. However he’ll should do it as Warner Bros. Discovery is making an attempt to chop prices.

CNN is upgrading its behind-the-scenes content material administration system, or CMS, and its digital video participant, which is able to convey incremental redesigns to, in line with individuals aware of the matter. attracts greater than 180 million month-to-month distinctive viewers, making it one of many world’s hottest information websites. The modifications also needs to convey workflow alignments to CNN digital and linear, which ought to assist each entities’ content material and group.

Whereas digital is not Licht’s background, he is labored in current months to study extra about it, in line with individuals acquainted his discussions. CNN nonetheless hasn’t named a chief digital officer, though the corporate’s job posting now says it is crammed. Sources stated a deal is almost executed and an announcement will come quickly.

CNN’s near-term future is much like that of Fox Information and MSNBC — survive as a subscriber fee-collecting cable community for so long as potential. It is extra more likely to present up as a part of the corporate’s bundled streaming service than a standalone information service. This was a serious concern of Kilar and Zucker, who believed CNN would get buried in a big streaming service, constructed to suggest the most recent films and hit TV sequence as a substitute of reports.

However whereas Zucker and Kilar have been intent on investing in CNN’s future now, Licht’s focus mirrors Zaslav’s: maintain cable subscriber charges flowing. Like different division leaders at Warner Bros. Discovery, Licht’s focus is rising profitability. For now, meaning old style tv – successful time slots, boosting promoting and throwing his power into bettering CNN’s linear cable information community for U.S. and worldwide audiences.

Disclosure: Comcast’s NBCUniversal is the father or mother firm of MSNBC and CNBC.

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