The major changes CNN has made in leadership, philosophy, and structure have not yet borne fruit in the ratings, and now CNN employees are reportedly beginning to panic.
A “well-placed” source at the network told the New York Post that “new management is not freaking out but everyone else at CNN is.”
The numbers are indeed cause for concern. In June, CNN primetime shows averaged just 654,000 nightly viewers, despite the allure of the Jan. 6 committee hearings, which the network covered at length. And of those 654,000, just 148,000 of them were in the coveted 25-54 age demographic.
The ratings for Brian Stelter’s show “Reliable Sources” were particularly abysmal, drawing just 585,000 total viewers and 79,000 key demographic viewers. It was the lowest rating for the show in over 20 years.
As bad as Stelter’s numbers have been, the numbers for other high-profile CNN personalities like Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper were far worse, as Stelter outperformed each prime time host in the second quarter. The CNN daily lineup likewise had a poor showing, losing 3% of its audience from May.
Still, executives at the parent company Warner Bros. Discovery remain optimistic. WBD CEO David Zaslav recently told Vanity Fair that he believes new CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht “is doing a great job pivoting CNN.”
“Journalism first,” he continued. “America needs a news network where everybody can come and be heard — Republicans, Democrats. I think you’re seeing more of that at CNN.”
Licht took over a network that appeared to be in crisis. The former CEO Jeff Zucker resigned unexpectedly back in February when it was discovered that he and a female executive had had an affair that began while both were still married, and the digital streaming service CNN+ lasted less than a month and drew only 10,000 subscribers.
Though the numbers for June may be discouraging for those employed at the network, Zaslav insisted that he and his team are looking at the big picture, not the ratings.
“I think [CNN’s] the greatest news brand in the world with the greatest journalists. And we’re going to lean into that. We’re not going to look at the ratings and, in the long run, it’s going to be worth more,” he said.
In order to restore the CNN news brand, Licht has already implemented some key changes. He has advised hosts against using the phrase “the big lie” to refer to claims that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election, and he has threatened to oust those at the network who cannot maintain some level of objectivity in their reporting.