CNN will have a new chief for a new chapter in its history.

Chris Licht, a veteran producer who has overseen programs like MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CBS’ “CBS This Morning” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” was named chairman and chief executive of CNN Global — a new name for the news operation once its parent, WarnerMedia, is acquired by Discovery. Licht will report directly to David Zaslav, who will be CEO of the combined company, and is expected to start on May 1.

Discovery is, at present, seen taking control of WarnerMedia sometime in mid-April, depending on a shareholder vote, among other conditions.

The prospect of a new owner and a new top executive has spurred speculation about what new programming and operating direction may be in store for the venerable cable-news outlet, which has been under scrutiny since WarnerMedia ousted former president Jeff Zucker after he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with Allison Gollust, CNN’s former chief marketing officer. “I know you have a lot of questions. Perhaps the biggest one is how will CNN change?” Licht said in a memo to CNN staffers on Monday.” The honest answer is that I don’t know yet. David Zaslav has given me one simple directive: To ensure that CNN remains the global leader in NEWS as part of Warner Bros. Discovery.”

Licht will arrive at CNN in a time of flux. Cable-news operations have become an entrenched viewing habit for millions of Americans, but a good percentage of that viewership is increasingly turning to streaming, mobile and digital options for entertainment and information. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel have seen viewership decline in the wake of the end of the runup to the 2020 election and the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. CNN’s primetime viewership among people between 25 and 54 — the demographic most favored by advertisers — was off 46% in 2021, according to Nielsen. MSNBC’s was down by 38% and Fox News Channel’s declined by 41%. All three networks are expected to shed subscribers in 2022, according to Kagan, the market-research firm that its part of S&P Global Intelligence, as consumers move away from traditional cable and satellite subscriptions.

He will be charged with maintaining the linear TV ratings that continue to fuel the business even as CNN readies the launch of CNN Plus, a new subscription-based streaming service that will vie with competitors like Fox News’ Fox Nation, NBC News’ NBC News Now, CBS News’ CBS News Streaming, and ABC News’ ABC News Live. Discovery is already a giant producer of unscripted and documentary programming, and there is some question of whether CNN’s streaming effort might overlap with its new parent’s production initiatives. Executives at Discovery have also hinted they may see a different way to manage the combined assets of the new company’s streaming properties, which include HBO Max and Discovery Plus.

Under Zucker, CNN anchors began to get more passionate and opinionated about the topics they covered, and there are indications Discovery may tamp down on that sort of programming.

“I am a news junkie at the core and was lucky earlier in my career at NBC to play a role in starting CNBC and MSNBC. I have long been a big fan and admirer of CNN with its extended
leadership in breaking news, global news, and investigative reporting,” Zaslav said in a memo. “The coverage most recently from Ukraine has been extraordinary. The analysis is thoughtful and informative, the reporting compassionate, and the journalism vital. The risk to personal safety is a true public service.”

Since Zucker’s departure, CNN has been run by a trio of top executives: Amy Entelis, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz. Their responsibilities under Discovery’s tenure were not disclosed.