Game over for Chris Licht. The boss of CNN was landed on Wednesday from the management of the news channel, after only a year at his head. A departure that became inevitable, after a series of missteps within a chain in the midst of an existential crisis.
The broadcast of a debate with Donald Trump, live and in front of an audience won over to the former president last month, had caused an open crisis within the channel, accused of having been too naive in its treatment. And the coup de grace was given a few days ago by the publication of a long portrait of Chris Licht in The Atlantic magazine, showing a CEO who was both self-indulgent and unskillful. An ill-suited profile for a channel that has been in crisis for several years, both editorially and economically.
The channel founded by Ted Turner in 1980, renowned for its seriousness and its international coverage of information, has slowly drifted to the left of the political spectrum. A response to Fox News’ rightwing, but which has tired viewers eager for a more balanced debate. And if Chris Licht precisely wanted to produce more distanced information, he failed to convince.
Strategy in streaming
If Chris Licht is not directly responsible for it, CNN also suffered a flash failure in its attempt to diversify into streaming. Unfortunately launched when its parent company Warner Bros merged with Discovery, CNN+ only lived for a few weeks in April last year, despite tens of billions of dollars spent to develop it.
The CEO of the new merged group, David Zaslav, has just named one of his relatives, David Leavy, as CNN’s chief operating officer. As the presidential campaign, a key moment for audiences, begins, he will have to find the keys to profitability and growth drivers.
After four years of Donald Trump’s mandate, which has been the business of many media, the channel’s annual contribution to the profits of his group has gone from more than a billion dollars between 2016 and 2020 to 750 million dollars l last year, according to figures obtained by the “New York Times”.
The switch from cable, in decline, to streaming is not completely buried. According to the news site Axios, the group is still studying the possibility of integrating elements of CNN into Max (formerly HBO Max), one of its streaming ets.
CNN, finally, must find a line of conduct internally. Chris Licht had been poached from CBS (where he produced Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show”) to succeed a Jeff Zucker forced to resign for having hidden a relationship with an employee. One of the channel’s star presenters, Chris Cuomo, was also suspended in 2021 after the setbacks of his brother Andrew, Governor of New York State.