CNN memo indicates layoffs, other cuts could be coming

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CNN staffers were sent a memo noting that the network is heading into a period of “noticeable change.”

“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,” Licht wrote in the memo issued Oct. 26, 2022.

There were not specifics offered about how many layoffs or other changes might be coming, but significant cutbacks were largely expected after WarnerMedia merged with Discovery to former Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year given that WBD CEO David Zaslav has committed to saving $3 billion in costs as a result of the deal.

Meanwhile, WBD has been laying off staffers from various divisions since the start of fall.

According to SEC filings on Oct. 24, the company says it expects to lose $1 to $1.5 billion by scrapping programming it’s already committed to and paying out severance packages for employees it parts ways with.

Licht, meanwhile, took the reigns of CNN in May 2022, just after the merger closed. The newly-formed company would announce it was shutting down CNN+, a streaming service that it reportedly invested $300 million in, but never reached projected signup levels and was closed down less than a month after it launched.

CNN+’s death also meant that a portion of the approximately 700 people hired for the streamer would likely be laid off in the weeks following the shutdown, though it’s not clear how many jobs were ultimately affected. Additional staffers were laid off later when the network opted not to move forward with the interactive “Interview Club” feature from CNN+.

CNN also cut staff from its audio team, which is largely focused on producing podcasts, in recent months.

There are signs that the layoffs and other cuts could come before the end of 2022, meaning CNN staffers could be getting pink slips just in time for the holiday season, though it appears that they may be offered at least some kind of severance deal according to those SEC filings.

Not only is CNN dealing with the fallout from CNN+, it’s also facing ratings challenges. On a broader scale, shaky economic conditions and forecasts are making some media companies leery that advertising revenue could take a hit if the U.S. and other countries face a recession or similar financial downfall.

2022 has seen an influx of midterm election advertising — in some states it’s hitting record numbers — but that won’t be around for 2023 and it’s likely political ad spending won’t tick back up until 2024.

Television advertising in general has been declining as advertisers look for more targeted ways to reach potential customers, which is one reason that media outlets are looking for alternatives such as streaming, podcasts and other digital offerings.

Despite typically being the third-rated news and commentary network, behind MSNBC and Fox, the network is still expected to turn a profit of just under $1 billion in 2022.

Licht’s memo also suggests that some productions and projects will either be cut or forced to do more with a lower budget.

The network is currently in the middle of what it calls a temporary pre-election schedule, though it’s hard not to see it as test run for a permanent schedule that includes moving around some of its star talent, such as Jake Tapper, and making more use of existing anchors, including Wolf Blitzer.

The network has also pledged to launch a new morning show Nov. 1, 2022, an effort that happened so fast the network said it won’t have time to build the show a permanent set before the debut.

CNN typically employees between 4,000 and 4,500 people, though its top-paid staffers are likely executives and talent, whose jobs often come with cushy perks.

The network already appears to be a bit top-heavy with talent, given that it’s kept some big (and likely expensive) names hired for CNN+ around, though it’s not clear if their contracts were changed. It’s possible the network might try to negotiate early outs for some of this talent or move them into more prominent roles on CNN proper.

In many cases, TV talent are guaranteed all or a portion of their contract value even if the network decides to let them go, though these deals can be renegotiated.

Meanwhile, the cuts are also like to affect behind-the-scenes workers, who tend to make less money than talent and management. It’s possible CNN could cut back on original programming, perhaps simulcasting its international feed during select times, filling the schedule with programs that are cheaper to produce or cut back on the amount of original content that’s created in favor of repeating stories more frequently.

This could mean the network won’t need as many producers, correspondents, editors and other editorial workers though it’s also likely that at least some staffers left after any layoffs will end up wit more responsibilities to fill in some of these gaps.