New boss at CNN wants to move on from ratings war

Television executive Chris Licht appears in an undated handout image.
Television executive Chris Licht appears in an undated handout image. (Image courtesy CBS/Paramount Global, Graphic by The Desk)

The new head of CNN is looking beyond traditional television ratings in order to generate revenue, including a strategy that would see sponsored segments incorporated into the network’s news broadcasts and adding a paywall to a portion of CNN’s website that would only be accessible to paying digital subscribers.

The details came in a new profile of CNN Worldwide President Chris Licht, who assumed command from departing executive Jeffrey Zucker earlier this year while CNN’s corporate parent company was in the process of divorcing itself from AT&T in favor of new ownership under Discovery, Inc.

The profile painted Licht as a ratings-obsessed television producer at his prior three jobs, including as co-creator of the beltway panel program “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and as head of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” at CBS. He turned both programs into successes, both through an increase in ratings and on their own merits beyond the book.

Now, as the head of the longest-running cable news network in the United States, Licht wants to pivot away from the ratings war that his predecessor dominated until he didn’t.

This week, Bloomberg said Licht has already issued a number of edicts that sought to restore CNN as an outlet of respectable television journalism, including a move away from overusing the phrase “Breaking News” in on-air graphics. He also encouraged anchors and other television talent to reduce their combativeness with the sources they cover.

“[There] needs to be room for nuance,” Licht recently told employees at CNN. “We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers.”

There has already been a notable difference in how CNN has presented the news since the network came under Licht’s control at the post-merger Warner Bros Discovery. The network still covers the political dealings of the day, but does so with a more middle-of-the-road approach.

Ratings at all three prominent cable news channels have suffered since Donald Trump left office last year, but CNN’s ratings have declined the most — it is now third out of three, with Fox News and MSNBC trading for first place.