This discussion attempts some objective analysis surrounding the departure of Chris Licht. Personalities and friction are omitted. In any case, such factors are not primary to declining market share of CNN. Media markets such as cable news have life cycle phases:
Growth. In this phase, viewers seek new experiences. Novelty, not loyalty, drives the space. An adroit programmer can take advantage of novelty and churn to grow the platform. For CNN, the novelty was the immediacy of always-on news. Multiple competing platforms can grow as they vie for slices of the expanding pie.
Maturity. The game transitions to zero sum. Growth and shrinkage are dominated by churn, with loyalty and novelty in balance. Now regarded as talent, programmers compete against each other, and execs compete for programmers. This goes way back to Fred Silverman, “the man with the golden gut.”
Decline. In preservation of the factors that drove growth, novelty is banished. Loyalty dominates older age groups, while younger demographics decline. While churn formerly dominated subscriber loss, what happens now doesn’t fit the scenario, as younger viewers abandon the market. Novelty takes a walk. Think Vilfredo Pareto’s “circulation of the elites.”
Why this is happening. In the era when broadcast had a lock on mass communication, CNN offered novel immediacy. Broadcast gave way to multicast, replaced in turn by novel peer-peer, otherwise known as social media. Broadcast formerly provided unbeatable economies of scale; its impersonal nature was disguised by the “star power” of uniquely attractive personalities mediated by savvy programmers.
Hence the approach of Chris Licht, which in the main was the shuffling of personalities and combinations through time slots. This is the purest form of network programming. The effect on CNN has been strongly negative, intimately related to the transition of cable news to the phase of decline:
- Demand for novelty is absent.
- Retention is based on loyalty.
- Loyalty abhors change.
- In consequence, any change Licht could or did make resulted in viewer loss. The transition from maturity to decline is a programming “game changer.” It rendered Licht’s prior experience useless.
Political slant has, in comparison, minuscule effect. If the above reasoning were not operative, there would be enough liberals to sustain CNN.
Is there a future of long-term viability? Fox shows that political hysterics work, but this immoral option is not available to CNN, which is a morally grounded enterprise. If there is a long-term future for CNN, it is to be found in new approaches to:
- Immediacy, allowing some bypass of format considerations that were relevant in the broadcast era.
- Enrichment of Information flow.
- New approaches to controversy.
- Connection with viewers, which can be mediated by AI.
I would like to play a part in fashioning a viable future for an organization with a strong moral compass.