Who’s out? Top shareholder set to merge with Time Warner calls for CNN to ‘actually have journalists’

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About a week ago, a blue-check Twitter user turned heads in the political journalism world when he claimed that CNN was set to revert back to its roots when it was primarily a news network and offered little in the way of left-wing viewpoint and opinion programming.

“BREAKING REPORT: CNN returning to a 100% news channel after Major Merger. A ‘good number’ of the ‘talent/staff’ WILL BE LET GO to align with their new mission,” wrote political strategist Chuck Callesto, crediting the Washington Examiner’s former news editor Jon Nicosia.

But after Callesto’s tweet nearly two weeks ago, little more was said about the revelation — until now.

On Friday, Mediate tweeted a video clip of a CNBC interview with John Malone, who is the top shareholder in Discovery Media, which is set to merge with Time/Warner, which owns CNN. During the interview, Malone made a revealing statement.

“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” he said, adding later that he believes “the coward’s way out would be to sell” CNN, “or spin it off and then sell it.”

All of which leads back to Callesto’s Nov. 12 tweet and begs the question: Who’s in at CNN after this merger? Who is out? And ultimately, what will the format look like?

A Deadline report published earlier this month about the merger may provide some additional clues.

According to the entertainment industry outlet, Malone told Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries when asked about the debt Discovery will incur when it takes in WarnerMedia that it will be made up “in cost savings,” suggesting strongly that there could be significant cuts of multimillion-dollar talent from CNN, for starters.

“Leverage is relatively high for this [merged] company, but interest rates are quite low,” Malone told Fries. “This is investment-grade debt, long-term.

“The rate at which free cash flow will pay down that debt as well as the synergies” will help to mollify investor concerns, Malone continued. Both companies believe that the merger will be finalized by the middle of next year.

“Fries noted estimates that Discovery and WarnerMedia’s debt would be about four-and-a-half times trailing earnings, which is on the high side,” Deadline reported, going on to quote Malone who said he expects that cost savings will “easily go past” $3-$4 billion annually.

“Synergy forecasts of $2.5 billion when AT&T bought Time Warner resulted in the departures of more than 1,000 workers amid several major rounds of restructuring,” Deadline reported.

Malone added: “It’s a big synergy combination.”

Unsurprisingly, Deadline noted, there has been no public discussion of layoffs as the deal continues to progress.

As for CNN, the network appears to be in a tailspin. The most recent ratings show that none of the network’s prime-time programming drew an average of 1 million viewers in October. And some programs, like Brian Stelter’s little-watched Sunday offering “Reliable Sources,” only bring in a few hundred thousand.

Last month, the network “averaged a devastating 480,000 in total day viewership,” which was “a whopping 76% drop from January” during the chaotic Trump transition and Capitol riot, Fox News reported.

“The network’s flagship morning program “New Day” failed to even reach the 400,000-viewer average threshold, struggling with only a 382,000 average, shedding more than 10% of its September audience,” the network added. “The John Berman-Brianna Keilar duo continues to be the least-watched weekday talent on any of the major cable news networks.”


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Jon Dougherty


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