Chris Licht’s 6-Month CNN Business Review Is Ending, Here’s What to Expect Going Forward

By A.J. Katz 

CNN CEO Chris Licht recently spoke with CNBC media reporter Alex Sherman for what’s one of the more in-depth stories we’ve seen to-date about Licht’s brief tenure running the network.

Here are some notable takeaways:

Six-month business review concludes, and downsizing is coming


Licht, hired by Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav back in the spring, is finishing up a six-month business review of the network and job cuts are expected to be handed down by the end of the year, something that’s part of a larger downsizing process at Warner Bros. Discovery. How many jobs will be lost remains to be seen.

Sherman notes that unlike his predecessor Jeff Zucker, Licht is avoiding giving his two cents about individual show choices, citing sources. He has said in private meetings that he’s trying to empower executive producers and show producers to make decisions by themselves. He wants employees to hear marching orders from direct managers rather than him.

“I love the control room, and I love the feeling of sending a text and seeing it show up on screen 10 minutes later, but there’s so much happening that we’ll be paralyzed if everyone is waiting to hear from me,” Licht told CNBC. “That’s just not how I operate.”

Here’s Licht’s memo to staff concerning additional layoffs taking place later in the year. The memo was internally hours after Sherman’s story was published:

Changing the way stories are covered

According to Sherman, Licht wants CNN to cover stories more like a newspaper and less like Politico, citing sources. “That means more stories that an average family would discuss around the dinner table and less obsessive focus on politics.” We should expect to see more business, tech and even sports stories at CNN going forward.

No mandate for anchors to become “more centrist”

Anchors should not change who they are on air, contrary to previous reporting, but Licht does want viewpoints from both sides of the political divide to appear on CNN, Sherman reports. That said, Licht won’t stand for guests who push disinformation.

“The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don’t like rain. We should give space to that. But we will not have someone who comes on and says it’s not raining,” Licht told CNBC.

That means CNN anchors, reporters and bookers to steer guests into topics they’re qualified to speak about. CNN won’t ban guests who have supported the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, but the network will attempt to keep conversations with those people in safe zones of truth, said people familiar with Licht’s thinking.

Be yourself, Jake Tapper

According to Sherman, Licht has told anchors he’s looking for authenticity on air, which apparently has been the driving force behind Jake Tapper’s move to primetime. Licht pushed Stephen Colbert to tap into his real personality as host of CBS’ The Late Show, CNN content chief Ryan Kadro told CNBC earlier this year.

That said, Tapper has not been resonating with CNN primetime audiences so far, at least not in the ratings. CNN 9 p.m. audiences are perhaps used to a “louder,” more boisterous and polarizing personality in the 9 p.m. hour. According to Sherman, “CNN executives are writing off the early poor performance to Tapper experimenting with the form, saying he’s effectually doing a pilot show each night.”

End of Reliable Sources and Brian Stelter’s exit

Back in late-August, Licht ended the network’s long-running media news program Reliable Sources and fired its host Brian Stelter, who had years left on his contract. Sherman reports that decision was Licht’s, not Zaslav’s or top WBD stakeholder John Malone’s.

Licht said part of the thinking behind his decision to cancel Reliable Sources was his belief media coverage was better served digitally on rather than dedicating a one-hour Sunday show to it, as he explained in a response to a column by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. However, the fact that Stelter was not kept at CNN in any other capacity is a bit puzzling, and it could give some credence to past reporting that the company is trying to move on from on-air talent who consistently criticize conservative news outlets.

“The brand is the most trusted brand in the world when it comes to journalism, right up there with the BBC,” Licht told CNBC of CNN. “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.”

Rethinking CNN digital investment

Sherman reports that Licht plans to ramp up investment in, which his team feels has been mismanaged because all of the money and effort went to CNN+. But this undoubtedly is a tough proposition, as Warner Bros. Discovery has to cut costs across the company, including at CNN.

CNN is upgrading its CMS, and its digital video player, which will bring a different look to, Sherman reports. draws more than 180 million monthly unique viewers, making it one of the world’s most popular news sites.

CNN still hasn’t named a chief digital officer, but sources tell Sherman a deal is nearly done and an announcement will come soon.