The changes at Warner Bros. Discovery’s ratings-challenged CNN division continue.
In a move positioned as meant to free up CNN CEO Chris Licht to devote more focus to programming, David Leavy, a 23-year veteran of Discovery and a confidant of WBD CEO David Zaslav, has been named CNN Worldwide’s chief operating officer.
Leavy will have responsibility for commercial, operational and promotional activities across CNN Worldwide, and report to Licht. He will start the new role on June 20, and be based in CNN’s Washington bureau.
Leavy, who currently serves as WBD’s chief corporate affairs officer, will also continue to oversee public policy and social responsibility for the company.
Behind the scenes, some sources have speculated that, with Licht struggling on the ratings front and now facing widespread criticism over CNN's "town hall" with Donald Trump, Leavy could end up replacing Licht.
During his previous tenure as chief corporate operations officer for Discovery, Inc., Leavy helped spearhead the 2021 launch of Discovery+, the company’s public listing on the NASDAQ exchange in 2008, its acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive in 2018, and Discovery and Eurosport’s agreement for rights to the Olympic Games across Europe.
Prior to joining Discovery, Leavy served as chief spokesman and senior director of public affairs for the National Security Council and as deputy press secretary for foreign affairs in the Clinton White House.
Leavy’s “deep operational experience, institutional knowledge and key industry relationships perfectly complement the strengths of our leadership team,” Licht stated in the announcement. “He is a strategic, versatile and dynamic executive who will work with myself and the senior leadership team to help transform our business as we get the full programming slate on the air, build out our digital future and grow the CNN brand around the world.”
Licht took over CNN a year ago, simultaneous with the plug being pulled on the just-launched CNN+ streamer. Since then, the news operation has seen layoffs, an overhaul of the daytime lineup, the dismissal of high-profile anchor Don Lemon, and the exit of some seasoned news talent, as Licht has sought to shift programming away from its former liberal bent. That push has included more visibility for Republicans, including the controversial, live “town hall” with Trump on May 10. Another town hall, with Republican presidential nomination candidate Nikki Haley, is scheduled for June 4.
But despite a bump to 3.3 million viewers for the Trump event, CNN’s average audience in May dropped 16% versus April, to 494,000, in prime time and dropped 13%, to 416,000, for total day. That puts the network at #14 in primetime viewing among cable networks and fifth in total-day viewership.