QWho doesn’t remember the images of explosions overnight in Baghdad in 2003, the live disintegration of the Challenger shuttle in 1986, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in 2001? They will remain associated with the rise of CNN, the channel that revolutionized television news by inventing continuous news, twenty-four hours a day. Created in 1980 by Ted Turner, it symbolized a new image journalism and American hegemony in this field. Today, the jewel of American audiovisual has become a ball and chain. On Wednesday June 7, the chain announced the departure of its boss, Chris Licht, who remained at the head of the company for only thirteen months.
He leaves in a poisonous climate, hated by journalists and shunned by viewers. Eager to refocus the channel politically and achieve a media coup, he gave exceptional exposure to his worst enemy, Donald Trump, by inviting him to a debate on May 10. For an hour and in front of an audience of fans, the latter accumulated untruths and insulted the host of the debate, Kaitlan Collins. An episode which did not cause any shock in the audience and which pissed off all the journalists of the channel. David Zaslav, the boss of Warner Discovery, the parent company of CNN, has resigned himself to bringing out the man he had called in May 2022.
For him, CNN is now 5% of the revenues of his group, born from the acquisition in April 2022 of Warner Media by Discovery, and 80% of its problems. Because Chris Licht’s troubles with his company are only the outward sign of a deeper degradation. When, driven by the 2020 presidential campaign, the channel recorded an average of 1.7 million viewers during its prime time, it only posted 687,000 in 2022 compared to 2.2 million for its rival Fox News, and 1.1 million for CNBC (Nielsen figures). In the first quarter of this year the audience fell further.
The chain has two strategic problems. On the one hand, it seeks a political positioning. After being accused of leftism by supporters of Donald Trump, she tried under pressure from her shareholders to refocus. But are there still enough viewers who want it? CNBC’s Democratic anchorage ensures its success, like that of Fox News’ Republican one.
On the other hand, it suffers from the disaffection of the paying cable channels by an audience which turns massively towards online television of the Netflix type. The information niche, like that of sport, has not yet changed, but it should happen. Enough to undermine the morale of an editorial team tossed about by team changes. The era of fiery direct and flamboyant reports now seems a long way off.