As cost-cutting changes continue to roil CNN, chairman and CEO Chris Licht has announced that the news division will be cutting back on commissioning films and television series from outside firms.
“I am writing to share that we are making changes to how we approach premium longform content,” Licht wrote in a memo Friday morning to CNN employees that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “Our long-term plan will no longer rely on commissioned projects with outside partners.” Licht explained that the decision was “based, in large part, on the ever-increasing cost of commissioning third-party premium content” but qualified that “longform content remains an important pillar of our programming.”
CNN originals have included documentaries like Blackfish (2013), Navalny (2022) and John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020) and series like Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and United Shades of America. Since CNN Films began working with outside partners in earnest after acquiring Blackfish at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it has come to work on more than 60 documentaries, Licht said. Meanwhile, the CNN Original Series library includes about 45 titles.
During its run producing, commissioning and acquiring documentary and nonfiction series titles, CNN racked up Emmy awards, earned several Oscar nominations and didn’t shy away from investigative work in titles like Blackfish, The Hunting Ground (2015) and Navalny.
Licht noted that under the leadership of CNN Worldwide’s executive VP for talent and content development Amy Entelis, CNN will look into “how we can approach longform content in house.” Licht added, “My goal is to find a model that will enable us to bring our audiences this type of programming with greater flexibility.”
In 2023, CNN Original Series and CNN Films are still set to distribute six series and six films. When asked about the fate of current and previously announced CNN Original Series, a CNN spokesperson responded, “We will have information in the coming weeks about our final 2023 CNN Original Series & CNN Films slate.”
On Wednesday, Licht warned in an all-staff memo that changes at the organization would “accelerate” in the coming weeks as the division braces for an economic slowdown and as CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, continues to work to cut costs. Licht noted that layoffs would be coming and that the division was hoping to make most of its major changes before the end of the year.
Warner Bros. Discovery has been aggressively economizing since the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger closed in the spring, with casualties of the cost-cutting including the company’s Batgirl film, TBS’ Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and two Warner Bros. Television Group talent pipeline programs. The company has also laid off workers at Warner Bros. Television Group and HBO Max and has laid off a number of European staffers, including top execs.
On Wednesday the company disclosed in a securities filing that it believes restructuring charges, pre-tax, will amount to between $3.2 billion to $4.3 billion.