Tuesday marked Chris Licht’s first anniversary as CNN’s chief executive, and even though it has been more of a rough going than smooth one for him, Licht still managed to put a positive spin on it in a note to staff.
Licht told staff that he is working hard to keep the promise he made when he first joined, which was “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.”
He added, “I remain humbled and deeply proud to lead the best news organization in the world, and I am incredibly bullish about our future and all that is to come in 2023.”
Licht walked into a CNN that was still reeling from the shock of former CNN head Jeff Zucker’s unceremonious exit, and one of the first decisions he had to make was to shutter the network’s streaming service CNN+, which he did before he officially began his tenure.
A lot has happened since then; he has shifted the tone of its political coverage to provide more of a centrist viewpoint. He has reshuffled the executive ranks, presided over layoffs, and tinkered with the domestic network’s programming lineup, launching a new morning show and dayside programming.
His first year, though, will be remembered for the abrupt firing of Don Lemon, who was let go more than a week ago.
Licht had moved Lemon from his primetime perch to the mornings, making him the most recognizable face of the morning trio anchoring CNN This Morning.
However, that transition did not go over smoothly as Lemon reportedly battled with his cohosts, and made inappropriate comments on-air that caused internal and external uproar. He was forced to apologize, received a suspension and a public rebuke from Licht.
Licht now has to turn his attention once again to fixing mornings while also working on the network’s primetime schedule, particularly the 9 pm ET hour, which has remained vacant since the departure of Chris Cuomo in 2021.
Despite being behind those of Fox News and MSNBC, CNN’s ratings seem to be showing some semblance of life, as the Nielsen data for April 2023 indicates the network posted solid month-to-month viewer growth.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data for April 2023, CNN averaged 587,000 total primetime viewers, No. 13 on basic cable (up three spots from March), and 480,000 total day viewers, No. 5 on basic cable (up one spot from March). The network also averaged 135,000 adults 25-54 in primetime, No. 18 on basic cable (up 12 spots from March), and 101,000 adults 25-54 in total day, No. 10 on basic cable (up four spots from March).
Compared to March, CNN gained +24% in total primetime viewers—and +35% among adults 25-54, +13% in total day viewers—and +22% among adults 25-54 in total day.
As Licht embarks on his second year, expect a different CNN. According to Business Insider, the network will undergo a major marketing initiative, which includes a brand refresh of its on-air look, a revamp of CNN’s digital presence, including the website, and a new ad campaign, the first to be undertaken since the closure of CNN+.
This is all happening as CNN readies itself for the 2024 election season. The move to a centrist tone with its political coverage has resulted in more GOP politicians appearing on the network. Earlier this week, CNN announced that former President Donald Trump is scheduled to participate in a CNN presidential town hall scheduled for next Wednesday in New Hampshire moderated by CNN This Morning anchor Kaitlan Collins.
How CNN responds to Trump and his tendency to spout falsities will be another test for Licht and a good indicator of whether he and his network are ready to handle another volatile election season.