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Chris Licht. Photo by Getty.

The Real CNN Drama is Cable News' Growing Irrelevance

Photo: Chris Licht. Photo by Getty.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, each unhappy TV channel is unhappy in its own way. And as illustrated by the leadup to the Wednesday exit of CNN’s CEO, Chris Licht, the cable news channel hasn’t been a happy place lately. That’s not likely to change now that Licht is gone. Beyond the gossipy drama behind his departure is the reality that CNN and its corporate parent, Warner Bros. Discovery, are both struggling with the fallout from a decade of cord cutting. In a world where far fewer people pay for cable, and where consumers face an oversupply of online news outlets, cable news channels no longer have a reason to exist. 

CNN still generates cash, so it comes in handy for its debt-pressured parent. But while CNN’s internal machinations draw lots of headlines, it’s a relatively small piece of Warner Bros. Discovery’s business. Assuming The New York Times was correct in reporting on Sunday that CNN generated $750 million in profit last year, the news channel accounted for just 8% of the profits flowing from all of the company’s cable channels. Those other channels, which include entertainment outlets like TNT, TBS and Discovery, are also suffering the impact of cord-cutting. But given CNN's myriad additional hassles, WBD CEO David Zaslav could be forgiven for wondering whether owning the news outlet is worth the trouble. If he sold it, perhaps to a needy billionaire willing to overpay for a high-profile brand name, Zaslav could use the proceeds to pay down debt.

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