CNN Won't Find Success with Straight News in Primetime, Either

New CNN President Chris Licht will unveil the vision of the network under his leadership in the fall when he names a replacement for former anchor Chris Cuomo at 9 pm, the prominent time slot that shapes the image of a cable news network. 

Licht has told staffers that under newly-formed parent company Warner Bros. Discovery that CNN will "double down on what’s working and quickly eliminate what’s not." According to the leaks, most of which are coming from Discovery, this statement means Licht wants to claw back the liberal opining and pivot back to CNN's roots -- his words, not mine -- as a traditional news outlet.

Licht is leaning toward establishing a "straight news hour" at 9 pm, a hard shift from Cuomo Prime Time, which aired in the window until December 2021.

The thinking is that providing less partisan opinions and more news will pull back in the moderate and conservative viewers whom CNN has lost. Though that's more hopeful than probable.

The daily cable charts suggest that viewers tune out the more that an anchor reads the headlines without an opinion to follow. Temporarily, CNN is running a program called Tonight at 9 pm in which it rotates anchors to host a newsy hour on topics like the war in Ukraine and the future of Roe v. Wade. And if this is a test-run, it's failing. Even fewer people are watching CNN at night than before.

On Wednesday, the 9 pm hour on CNN averaged 505,000, ranked 46th in cable news. For comparison, Cuomo Prime Time in the same time slot ranked 25th in cable news during 2021, with 1.27 million viewers.

Tonight is trailing CNN programs at 11 am and in the daytime. The Lead with Jake Tapper at 4 pm is now the highest-ranking CNN program at 29, drawing around 680,000 viewers.

It's 2022. Even the dial-up internet crowd rarely waits until 9 pm to catch up on the news of the day.

"Newscasts don’t work on cable, as you know, Bobby," Mediaite founder and NewsNation host Dan Abrams told OutKick last fall. "The best example is Shepard Smith on CNBC. Shepard does a solid newscast, one that’s really well produced. But no one’s watching. When I say no one’s watching, I mean by CNBC standards, even no one’s watching. So it hasn’t worked. They’ve never worked on cable, really.

"So I don’t think that that’s the way you’re going to get viewers. Why? Because people can get that information from the internet. So you have to do analysis and opinions."

In more detail, a host has to be interesting during their analysis and opinions.

Don Lemon's failures are not proof that only conservative opinionists move the needle -- and we are assuming CNN would not go that route, even under new management. Rather, Lemon's ratings are proof that he is predictable and not that insightful or entertaining.

Chris Cuomo never reached the stardom of Megyn Kelly but, by CNN standards, he was a success.

Viewers want performers at night, a provocateur. There's no evidence -- since at least 2016 -- that proves the contrary.

Granted, the bench of liberal commentators is shallow, as MSNBC is learning with Rachel Maddow's truncated schedule. However, and get this, CNN doesn't have to choose a newscast vs. a Cuomo imposter. 

If CNN hopes to innovate, it ought to consider innovating. A cable news network needs not to air program after program with a host or two speaking into the camera.

Imagine a show with banter, a panel or a debate program. Think First Take but with more politics than the one with Stephen A. Smith. Or The View with smarter, less cringy personalities.

Television viewers are drawn to villains to root against. Pin Laura Coates up against a challenger and watch the blogs erupt with content.

Building a straight news hour at 9 would not restore credibility at CNN to the degree that would offset the ratings plunge.

Licht sees an opportunity to regain lost former Republican viewers. He might be the only one. The number of conservative viewers willing to give CNN a second or third chance is minimal.

So a stiffy anchor reading hours-old headlines at night won't accomplish anything. Liberal, conservative, moderate, QAnon, anti-racist or woke -- no one wants that.

CNN viewers tweet that they want just the news. They are lying. In actuality, they want to be lied to in an entertaining fashion.

Written by
Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics.. Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.