Licht’s Term at CNN Marked by Declining Ratings, Revenue

(Image credit: CNN)

When CNN brought Chris Licht aboard in May 2022 to replace Jeff Zucker as CEO, part of Licht’s agenda was to provide a (what it termed) a more “bipartisan” approach to the news—something the 43-year old network had touted for decades—but had departed from in recent years, based on what pundits (mostly from the right) were saying. 

In hindsight, several days after Licht’s departure from the network, data shows that perhaps that approach wasn’t so good for the network’s viewership or bottom line. 

According to data from MediaRadar, advertisers spent $312.6 million in the first four months of 2023, a decline of 39% compared to the previous time period in 2022. In April alone, revenue fell 48% with just $80 million in ads. 

But it wasn’t only the revenues, but the number of advertisers that declined. CNN had a total of 2,100 advertisers in the first four months of 2023 whereas that number was 2,700 in the same period in 2022, a drop of 23%. From January to April 2023, 17 companies invested more than $2 million on CNN’s ad platforms, compared to 68 in the first four months of 2022, a decline of 75%. Companies that reduced their ad buys by 90% included Disney, Apple and Cisco, according to Media Radar.

That revenue decline was also compounded by the fact that CNN had also burned through reportedly $1 billion to launch CNN+, which Licht had to shut down early in his term due to the anemic number of subscribers and lack of support from its parent company.

“Our data analysis suggests a significant downward trend in CNN's ad revenue during Chris Licht's tenure, reflecting substantial declines both in total spend and in the number of advertisers,” said Todd Krizelman, CEO and co-founder of MediaRadar, in a statement.

Ratings fell too. During Licht’s time as CEO, CNN's average daily reach decreased by 7% year-over-year, according to Samba TV. Meanwhile, viewership during this same time period (May 2022 - June 2023) with regard to the network's competitors, including MSNBC and Fox News, has inversely shown year-over-year increases in average daily household reach. Examining reach for the three cable news networks as well as Newsmax, Newsmax experienced the largest overall increase at +23%), most likely driven by the turmoil at Fox News.

CNN's controversial town hall with former president Trump on May 10 was a ratings boom for the network, however with 4.8 million U.S. households watching CNN that day. Since then, however, CNN has seen its ratings slide, with no day since then bringing in over 3.5 million U.S. household tune-ins, Samba TV said.

"The data indicates that appetite for news coverage has been slowing in the aftermath of historic spikes from breaking news events like the Ukraine war, the most recent presidential election, and the indictment of former President Trump,” said Cole Strain, vice president of Measurement Science at Samba TV. “Since May of 2022, when new leadership took over, CNN has struggled to keep pace relative to its competitors. The network has seen its average daily reach decrease year over year, while other cable news networks have seen growth. This comparison may have been a contributing factor in the decision to part ways with its now former CEO."

So while it is open to debate that CNN's decline can be attributed a more "bipartisan" approach to news coverage and commentary (CNN's parent company Warner Bros. Discovery has experienced its own turmoil during this period), the lack of any other viable excuse seems to point to exactly that. 

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.