“The reality is that CNN ratings have been in a nosedive, so hopefully this change is a positive one in terms of direction of the network and ratings turnaround,” said one media buyer, noting CNN’s struggles were already a concern leading into the upfront.
The buyer pointed to the Trump town hall—a move Licht had hoped would position CNN as a neutral news source after the former president has repeatedly slammed the network as a liberal propagandist—as a turning point. Instead, CNN received backlash for hosting the town hall, with critics deeming it akin to a “Trump special” or “Trump spectacle.”
“Ideally this change introduces stability,” said the buyer. “It’s especially important as we head into the primary season and ultimately the general election cycle that this change was made now so CNN can properly prepare.”
An immediate replacement was not announced, but Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said in a statement that “we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader.” Licht is being replaced by a group of four executives in the interim—Amy Entelis, executive VP of talent and content development, Virginia Moseley, executive VP of editorial, and Eric Sherling, executive VP of U.S. programming, to lead the creative side, and David Leavy, chief operating officer, to lead business operations, according to a memo from Warner Bros. Discovery.
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CNN delivered 33.5 billion ad impressions in the first quarter of 2023, down from 44.8 billion impressions in the same quarter last year, according to data from iSpot.tv. Interest in news was high in the year-ago period, as Ukraine invaded Russia in February 2022. Across all CNN linear programming, there were 1.4% fewer ad airings year-over-year in the first quarter, and 8.7% fewer ad airings during primetime.
According to Nielsen, CNN trailed competitors Fox News and MSNBC substantially in primetime viewing. Despite the loss of top talent Tucker Carlson, Fox News still led cable news in May with an average 1.09 million total day viewers, followed by MSNBC with an average 736,000. CNN averaged 416,000 total day viewers throughout the month.