Chris Licht starts at CNN at one the most embarrassing, challenging times in its history
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Licht previously announced he would formally take over May 2, 2022, though he was on hand for an April 21, 2022 meeting where he announced the network’s new owners, Warner Bros. Discovery, were pulling the plug on streamer CNN+ after less than a month of operations.
The shuttering of CNN+, which the network hired hundreds of people for, and its spectacular fall from grace is likely causing poor morale within the network as finger-pointing over why the streamer failed commences.
Some are blaming former CNN leadership for rushing the debut before the WBD merger closed when the content could have been better combined with a broader streaming strategy. Others say the offering was doomed to fail from the beginning.
"CNN must be a vital, relevant, and respected part of our culture. Sadly, too many people have lost trust in the news media." pic.twitter.com/9WoNcbVhwO
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) May 2, 2022
“CNN must be a vital, relevant, and respected part of our culture. Sadly, too many people have lost trust in the news media,” Licht wrote in a memo to CNN staffers obtained by Axios.
“I am here to set expectations, make the tough calls, fight for the resources you need, and remove any obstacles that keep you from doing your best work,” another part reads.
From an operations standpoint, CNN is facing the challenge of trying to absorb at least some of the CNN+ staffers who are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the streaming service’s shutdown, though it’s likely hundreds will be left without any role — WBD has promised them at least six months severance if they don’t find one in addition to 90 days of full pay and benefits all affected staffers are getting.
Not only will Licht have to clean up that mess, but he’s also likely to face the task of figuring out what to do about the network’s sagging linear ratings. He also has a prime 9 p.m. timeslot to fill, formerly occupied by “Cuomo Prime Time.”
Other potential problem spots are morning show “New Day” that has been trying to find its place with viewers since it launched in 2013, one of the first initiatives of then new CNN head Jeff Zucker, who resigned earlier in 2022 after he admitted to a consensual relationship with a subordinate that was not reported as required by company policy.
He may also be tasked with attempting to negotiate new roles for some of the big name talent CNN hired for CNN+, including Kasie Hunt, Chris Wallace and Audie Cornish. So far, however, only Hunt has publicly said she’s remaining with the network in aa correspondent role.
Some insiders say that WBD wants CNN to become more focused on hard news and less on personality driven opinion and analysis, so that could also play a big role in how programming is reshaped.
Licht is scheduled to appear in a global town hall for CNN employees Thursday, May 5, 2022, at 11 a.m. eastern where employees around the world will be able to pose questions to him in a moderated format.