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HLN Layoffs Make Headline News: Read Chris Licht’s Memo

The former CNN Headline News channel will cease live programming, sending Robin Meade and her staff packing in the latest Warner Bros. Discovery layoffs.

"Morning Express with Robin Meade"

“Morning Express with Robin Meade”

Jeremy Freeman/Courtesy of HLN

HLN, formerly known as CNN’s Headline News cable channel, is ceasing its live-programming operations. That means “Morning Express with Robin Meade” and “Weekend Express” are canceled, a person with knowledge of the plans told IndieWire this morning.

In place of “Morning Express,” HLN will now simulcast new CNN morning show “CNN This Morning.” Meade, who has been with the cable news channel since September 11, 2001 (yes, her first day on-air was 9/11), and her staff have been laid off.

CNN (and thus, HLN) chief Chris Licht on Wednesday warned staff via email that layoffs were about to begin. On Thursday, he sent a much-lengthier memo, also obtained by IndieWire, about the reorg. Read that one in full at the bottom of this post.

Like big brother CNN (and much of the linear-TV industry), HLN felt the effects of audience fragmentation via the ratings. HLN is down 11 percent in total viewers to-date from last year’s averages, according to Nielsen data. Declines in the key demographic for news programming, adults 25-54, are even worse: HLN is -19 percent overall and -18 percent in prime time.

“Morning Express,” which averaged 159,000 daily viewers this year, is down the same 11 percent as the network itself. With just 41,000 viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, Meade’s extended morning show lost 24 percent of its 2021 demo audience. “Weekend Express” has seen (slightly) more subtle declines. While Meade’s show is nowhere near Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC in Nielsen numbers, the weekend version bests MSNBC programming in the key demo at 7 a.m. (But not at 9 a.m, its second original hour.)

For what it’s worth, CNN’s (and MSNBC’s, but not Fox’s) yearly ratings declines have been harsher than HLN’s.

CNN (and HLN) parent company Warner Bros. Discovery has been belt-tightening since WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. merged this spring. There have been layoffs and content write-offs — anything to save a few billion bucks. Sadly, the hottest trend in Hollywood is cost-cutting with staff reductions happening from Netflix to Criterion and everywhere in between.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19: Chris Licht attends Variety, The New York Party at American Bar on October 19, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Variety via Getty Images)

Chris Licht attends Variety, The New York Party at American Bar on October 19, 2022

Variety via Getty Images

Here is Licht’s Thursday memo:

To my CNN colleagues,
As promised in my note yesterday, I am following up with an overview of the changes we have made across the company. Our goal throughout the strategic review process has been to better align our people, processes and resources with our future priorities, strengthen our ability to deliver on CNN’s core journalistic mission and enable us to innovate in the years ahead. At the highest level, the goal is to direct our resources to best serve and grow audiences for our core news programming and products.

To achieve these goals, we will be reducing open job positions, reimagining our workflows and aligning our staffing, investments and focus around three key strategic priorities: programming, newsgathering and digital. All decisions are designed to strengthen the core of our business.

While it is not possible to capture every impacted role in an email like this, I want to walk through the broader changes we are making:

HLN

Beginning December 6, CNN will no longer produce live programming for HLN and instead will simulcast CNN This Morning. HLN Crime programming will move under the WBD Networks led by Kathleen Finch and will be merged with ID. I want to take a moment to thank Robin Meade— she is not only an exceptionally popular anchor, but also one of the longest-running morning hosts in history. I know the HLN audience will miss her and the other HLN talent.

CNN International

CNN International is reorganizing some of its teams and bureaus, and effective immediately, the 5:00-5:30pm ET show will be replaced by a simulcast of CNN US for that half hour.

CNN en Español

CNNE’s linear network will seek to expand its audience by diversifying the network’s programming beyond news. We will continue to produce news for CNNE, and throughout next year, we will look to develop a far more robust digital platform for CNNE with the aim of launching it in 2024. We believe that investment will better serve and significantly grow our Spanish-language news audience, and we will have more to share on that in 2023.

U.S. Newsgathering

We are restructuring across some of our beats, realigning resources to staff up in some units and in more areas around the country. This will help us deliver on our goal of covering the United States more broadly. Many of the staff reductions in Newsgathering will be offset by the addition of new roles to best serve our audience across platforms.

Contributors

We are also shifting our approach to paid contributors. In some areas, we will rely more on our CNN journalists. Overall, we will engage contributors who are subject-matter experts that expand and diversify the viewpoints we bring our audience.

Programming

Our programming teams will see some reductions in show staffs and, in some cases, the combination of teams for our dayside and weekend lineups.

Creative Marketing

The Creative Marketing team will see an overall reduction in size, realigning around in-house production and consolidating creative and strategy roles in New York. Roles will be added to both support that work and expand our digital and growth marketing efforts.

Research

Research is reorganizing to focus resources on CNN’s core businesses and to optimize our recently integrated Digital Analytics and Data Science teams.

Operations

The Operations teams are restructuring to align with the changes to other units across the organization.

CNN Digital

CNN Digital conducted an exercise earlier this fall to ensure they were best structured for the future. They made changes then and, as a result, there are no further impacts in this process.

The changes we are making today are necessary and will make us stronger and better positioned to place big bets going forward without fear of failure.

To our departing colleagues, I want to express my gratitude for your dedicated and tireless service and for your many contributions to CNN. To all employees, I want to underscore the importance of taking the time you need to best be able to move forward. You can find resources to support you now here. I will be holding a town hall on Tuesday to answer your questions, which can be submitted anonymously here.

I am proud of this CNN team, and together we will ensure CNN continues to be the world’s most vital source of news and information.

Chris

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