Warner Bros. Discovery’s CNN Makeover Strategy
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is known for his hobby of renovating underperforming cable assets. He has done this with several cable networks, including Discovery Health, Investigation Discovery, and Planet Green. Now, he seems to be trying to do the same with CNN. However, CNN is not a second- or third-tier cable network where radical business surgery can proceed unnoticed. CNN has been an integral contributor of operating profit to its corporate parent, making it a risky move to tinker with it too much.
Under Zaslav’s aegis, Chris Licht, CNN’s relatively new CEO, has worked to tamp down what had been a swashbuckling, even crusading CNN run by his predecessor, Jeff Zucker. Licht’s team is trying to execute a vision that showcases straight news in primetime, but it has not overwhelmed in the ratings. Efforts to move the provocative primetime anchor Don Lemon to mornings with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins proved disastrous, with the trio failing to gel. Throughout these fits and starts, ratings have fallen significantly, a threat to CNN’s ability to deliver ad revenue and leverage distribution discussions with cable and satellite systems.
The Challenges of Revamping CNN
Warner Bros. Discovery has only so much time to find a working plan for CNN. The 2024 presidential election looms, an event that typically draws bigger audiences, generates higher ratings, and wins new sponsorships from advertisers. Its arrival comes as cable networks face an era of diminishing returns, when viewers are more prone to zap over to their favorite streaming hub and create their own primetime schedule. What’s more, advertisers have grown increasingly nervous about supporting news programming in a time when a fracturing audience has grown increasingly polarized and more prone to take sponsors to task on social media.
Treating CNN like another media property to demolish and rebuild seems ill-considered. Warner Bros. Discovery needs CNN’s cash flow. Changing CNN is like repairing an airplane while it’s already in flight. Everyone can see what’s happening, and if executives aren’t careful, the whole thing might crash.
Revamping CNN is a challenging task for Warner Bros. Discovery. While David Zaslav has hard-earned knowledge from renovating underperforming cable assets, CNN is not a network where radical business surgery can proceed unnoticed. Chris Licht’s team is trying to execute a vision that showcases straight news in primetime, but it has not overwhelmed in the ratings. Warner Bros. Discovery has only so much time to find a working plan for CNN, and the challenges of revamping the network are significant. Treating CNN like another media property to demolish and rebuild seems ill-considered, and if executives aren’t careful, the whole thing might crash.
Keywords: Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN, David Zaslav, Chris Licht, cable networks, ratings, ad revenue, streaming, news programming.
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