Chris Licht may never have had a chance at CNN, but he sure as hell didn’t do himself any favors either.
Licht was handpicked by Warner Bros. Discovery chairman and chief executive officer David Zaslav to transform CNN. Together, they immediately cut the bait on the CNN+ disaster — a good choice — and set about restoring the linear cable news channel to its former glory. Focusing on breaking news, not getting into politics, and reporting half-hearted facts should have solved the problem of poor TV ratings. He decisively failed, and Licht was unceremoniously fired on Wednesday, just 13 months into the much-unfinished job.
To be fair to Licht, he inherited an underdog. Prior to Licht, CNN averaged 753,000 primetime (8:00 to 11:00 p.m.) viewers of all ages, according to Nielsen data dated 4/26/21-30/1/22 (one year prior to Licht). beginning of Licht until the end of Jeff Zucker’s tenure) made available to IndieWire; 171,000 of them were from the key 25-54 demographic, which is the preferred age group for advertisers in news programming. Overall it was already far worse than main competitor MSNBC (1.255 million total viewers), although CNN was ahead by 14,000 viewers in the demo. That’s the one metric by which CNN, still clinging to that slight edge over MSNBC for dear life, doesn’t rank last among the Big 3 cable news channels.
Under Light (04/25/22-06/05/23), CNN fell to 628,000 prime time viewers (-16.6%); of that average, 139,000 (-18.7%) people who tuned in were between the ages of 25 and 54.
Over the same period, MSNBC overall declined by just 4.8%; its key demo audience dropped sharply, however, by 21%. That means MSNBC lost Some viewers on a net basis, but to a greater extent its (relatively) young audience has been replaced by (relatively) older viewers. Fox has a similar story and first place on the podium.
All this time, the conservative Fox News Channel has just been in another stratosphere than its liberal counterparts. BL, “before Licht,” Fox News averaged 2.310 million primetime viewers, more than 3 times CNN.
Like MSNBC (and this is probably the only which Fox and MSNBC have in common), Fox’s primetime viewership has declined by single digits (-9%) over the past year or so, but the demo decline has been significant (-24.5 %). Hey, everyone gets old. Or at least, young viewers are switching to digital.
It’s not just a primetime ratings issue that CNN has struggled with: Those overall 1, 2, 3 above ratings remain the same when all 24 hours of programming on any given day are factored in. In summary, 24/7 CNN was losing, and the losses only got worse under Licht.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Nielsen numbers that brought down the short-lived regime. There was also a parade of missteps in his 13-month tenure. A few: the morning show debacle, what many viewed as the mishandling of Don Lemon’s firing, and Donald Trump’s disastrous town hall.
The past few weeks Unlimited access to the Licht profile in The Atlantic it appears to have been the nail in the coffin, although the handwriting had been on the wall for a while. In indelible marker.