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CNN to cut back on third-party commissions and bring longform production in-house

CNN is set to cut back on the number of projects it commissions from external production companies.

Chris Licht

In a memo sent to staff on Friday, CNN Worldwide CEO Chris Licht said the organisation’s “long-term plan will no longer rely on commissioned projects with outside partners,” adding the decision was based primarily on the “ever-increasing cost of commissioning third-party premium content.”

With the retreat from commissioning original series and films from outside companies, CNN will look for ways to bring longform production in-house, said Licht. Amy Entelis, executive VP for talent and content development, has been tasked with exploring how CNN can execute longform content using the global new organisation’s in-house resources.

“My goal is to find a model that will enable us to bring our audiences this type of programming with greater flexibility,” Licht said.

While the decision represents a significant blow to the independent production community, it is not an unexpected one. There has been speculation for several months that CNN would stop buying series and films produced by third parties, according to producers C21 has spoken with.

Over the past decade, CNN’s two main commissioning strands – CNN Original Series and CNN Films – have commissioned and acquired thousands of hours of content, including more than 60 feature-length documentary films and nearly 50 docuseries.

Projects commissioned under the CNN Original Series banner include Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell and Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Feature docs include Blackfish, Apollo 11, RBG, Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street, Three Identical Strangers and Navalny.

In 2023, CNN said it will air a slate of six series and six movies.

Friday’s announcement came two days after Licht warned of impending cuts across CNN.

“These changes will not be easy, because it will affect people, budgets and projects,” he said in an earlier memo to staff.

Licht added that the goal is to make these decisions before the end of the year “so we can start 2023 feeling settled and prepared for the future.”

The cuts come as CNN’s parent company Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) implements vast cost-cutting measures across its entire business with the goal of finding US$3bn in cost savings within two years. Cuts at WBD have been ongoing for more than six months and reports suggest there could be as many as 1,000 additional layoffs before the end of the year.


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