In a memo, Licht wrote, “There is widespread concern over the global economic outlook, and we must factor that risk into our long-term planning. All this together will mean noticeable change to this organization. That, by definition, is unsettling. These changes will not be easy because they will affect people, budgets, and projects.
“We will be strategic in this process and will minimize the impact on our core newsgathering operation and digital, both of which have already executed smart changes,” he wrote. “Let me be clear: I will not allow these changes to affect our position as the world’s leading news source, and we will continue to invest in growth areas. When we conclude this process, CNN will still be the largest, most-respected newsgathering organization in the world. We will continue to cover any story, anywhere, any time–with
more resources than anyone else. Full stop.”
His note comes as parent company Warner Bros. Discovery said in a filing this week that it expected to incur up to $1.1 billion in organization restructuring costs, including “severance, retention, relocation, and other related costs.” That is expected to mean substantial additional layoffs across the company.
Licht wrote in the memo that the aim “is to have most of these decisions made by the end of the year so we can start 2023 feeling settled and prepared for the future.”
He noted that CNN already restructured its digital team and “are investing significantly in the product.” He also noted changes to its morning and primetime lineups, which include a revitalized morning show that will launch on Nov. 1 and Jake Tapper’s move into primetime, at least through the midterms. None of the changes so far have meant hiring pricey outside talent, but relying on on-air personalities like Tapper, Don Lemon, Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow, who already are familiar to viewers.
“We have also begun to reduce or eliminate areas that aren’t core to our mission,” Licht wrote. “All these moves are designed to keep CNN essential across platforms to ensure that wherever and however people get their news, they must have CNN.”
Licht has been conducting a business review of CNN since he started in the job in May, meeting with senior staff in what he wrote was meant to “to identify areas where we should make changes, investments, and reductions to match out future priorities.” He indicated that the changes would “accelerate” over the next several weeks.
According to The New York Times, projections from S&P Global Market Intelligence show that CNN’s profits are on pace to fall to almost $957 billion this year, after a period where the annual net income topped $1 billion. That figure accounts for the substantial losses that the network took from the launch of CNN+ and its shuttering a month later. That short venture that was started under its previous ownership and then-CNN president Jeff Zucker.
In addition to shuttering CNN+, the network has recently trimmed its CNN Audio staff and shut down an NFT venture.
The network has seen its ratings drop versus last year. In the third quarter, its primetime lineup averaged 717,000 viewers, off by 13% from the same period a year earlier. All of the major news networks saw viewer declines during the third quarter in the 25-54 demographic.
Licht also has denied that the exit of Brian Stelter, who hosted Reliable Sources, and the departure of White House correspondent John Harwood had to do with a desire to eliminate personalities who have been especially vocal about Donald Trump. John Malone, a major investor in Warner Bros. Discovery, had been critical of the direction of the network under Zucker, as CNN became a frequent target of Trump and his supporters. In an interview with CNBC, Licht called it “painfully inaccurate” to surmise that he was shedding liberal voices from the network.
“The brand is the most trusted brand in the world when it comes to journalism, right up there with the BBC,” Licht told CNBC. “I think what happened a little bit here in the past was it’s easy to take the quick sugar high of ratings and outrage. So, I’m trying to do no harm to a great brand.”
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