Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide.
CNN CEO Chris Licht is set to get help running the news network from a longtime confidant Warner Bros. Discovery general director David Zaslav.
Licht has hired David Levy as CNN’s new chief operating officer, the company announced Thursday. Levy is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Warner Bros. Discovery has been working closely with Zaslav for more than 15 years. Licht took over as CEO of CNN in April 2022.
The move appears to give Zaslav an additional window into what’s going on at CNN. Licht is drawing increasing scrutiny from his staff amid falling ratings and questionable decisions.
Reporters and staff have openly criticized Licht’s decision last month to light up Donald Trump’s town hall with legions of screaming fans. Licht has since acknowledged the production issues while defending the decision to broadcast Trump’s town hall live.
Levy’s placement next to Licht can be seen as a proxy for Zaslav. And the involvement of a manager who served as consilier in Zaslav for more than ten years indicates that there are several boundaries and secrets between Licht and Zaslav.
Licht’s hiring was actually Licht’s idea, not Zaslav’s, people with knowledge said. Licht helped Licht find CNN’s CEO by acting as a mentor to the candidates. CNN initially made the offer to a female news executive, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. But Licht wanted someone to start immediately, and that manager was still under contract in his current position.
David Leavy, Chief Operating Officer, CNN Worldwide
When that didn’t work out, Livy suggested he might be right for the job. Both Licht and Levi then went to Zaslav with the idea, and he signed up, people said. A spokesman for CNN declined to comment
Leavy will be based in Washington, D.C., close to where his family lives.
Launch of CNN
Levy is familiar with the executives and works at Warner Bros. Discovery will now manage CNN’s marketing, public relations, advertising sales, equipment and other logistics.
Chris Marlin, CNN’s head of strategy and business operations, will now focus on creating alternative sources of revenue for the network outside of television. He was originally hired to do the job, according to one of the people familiar with the hiring process. Those opportunities include potential partnerships or sponsorships, the person said.
Licht produces shows including MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Leavy’s hiring should allow Licht to focus more on programming and editorial strategy and less on logistics. Levy will not be involved in the editorial side of CNN.
Licht made significant changes to CNN’s programming, including creating a new morning show and primetime schedule. The first results were not encouraging. According to Nielsen, CNN’s audience was down 16% in May from April in terms of total prime-time viewers and among adults 25-54, which are valued by advertisers. Average daily viewers fell 13% overall and 17% among adults 25-54.
CNN fired Don Lemon in April and is moving Caitlin Collins to prime time at 9 p.m. Both hosts were part of Licht’s original morning show, which lasted less than a year.
According to Nielsen, CNN’s total audience and prime time are behind Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News had 1.09 million daytime viewers and 1.42 million primetime viewers in May. MSNBC averaged 736,000 daytime viewers and 1.16 million primetime viewers. CNN averaged just 416,000 daily and 494,000 in primetime.
Anjali Sundaram | CNBC
Zaslau has had conversations with some CNN staff over the past few weeks to find out how things are going, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.
But while Zaslau and Licht aren’t thrilled with CNN’s ratings, they are united together in defining CNN’s promotion strategy. Leavy’s hiring only underscores that connection.
WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Warner Bros. CEO Discovery by David Zaslav