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CNN chief Chris Licht has big ideas, but employees are nervous, and more job cuts are coming

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Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide.

Courtesy: CNN

CNN CEO Chris Licht started conducting a business review of the news network when he agreed to take the job in April.

That evaluation wrapped up last week, according to people familiar with the matter, and CNN employees are about to find out Licht’s conclusions.

Licht faces many challenges at CNN. Like all cable news networks, the business is shrinking. CNN makes money off advertising and pay-TV subscriber fees. But as millions of Americans cancel traditional pay TV each year in favor of streaming services, CNN almost certainly can’t raise subscription rates at a fast enough clip to make up for declining viewer numbers.

CNN’s profit is set to drop below $1 billion this year for the first time since 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president. Parent company Warner Bros. Discovery‘s valuation has nearly been cut in half this year as investors have lowered their expectations on global streaming subscriber growth and macroeconomic pressures have pressured advertising revenue.

Licht has been given a mandate from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to transform CNN, which the network boss is internally referring to as a “right sizing” of the business. Many of Licht’s job cuts are still to come this year, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the decisions are private.

Hours after this story was published, Licht sent a memo to all staff confirming the end of his six-month business and signaling additional layoffs will be coming.

“There is widespread concern over the global economic outlook, and we must factor that risk into our long-term planning,” Licht wrote. “All this together will mean noticeable change to this organization. That, by definition, is unsettling. These changes will not be easy because they will affect people, budgets, and projects.”

Licht’s review is part of a larger effort spearheaded by Zaslav, who has told division heads throughout the company to rethink their units and find ways to cut costs. More than 1,000 people will be laid off by Warner Bros. Discovery before the end of the year, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private and ongoing. Warner Bros. Discovery has about 40,000 employees.

Licht doesn’t have a specific order to cut a certain amount of jobs or save a specific percentage of spending. But he’s planning to cut parts of CNN that he have become bloated over time, said the people. A CNN spokesperson declined to comment.

Some of the reductions have already happened. Licht has cut back on CNN’s audio division to eliminate unpopular podcasts. He’s shuttered CNN’s NFT marketplace. And his first job was to kill CNN+, the company’s fledgling streaming service strongly supported by former CNN head Jeff Zucker.

There have also been changes to the network’s content. In May, Licht told CNN’s TV production staff to stop overusing “Breaking News” banners. He’s altering CNN’s lineup one show at a time, starting with moving anchor Jake Tapper from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and shifting Don Lemon from 11 pm to co-host “CNN This Morning,” the network’s refurbished morning news show, along with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. CNN’s new morning show debuts Nov. 1.

But Licht’s biggest challenge — more than accelerating profit or revenue or retooling his programming lineup or winning ratings battles over Fox News and MSNBC — may be to win the trust of his own employees.

“When [Zaslav] called and offered me the job, he told me what he was looking for out of CNN,” Licht said in a brief interview this month. “And I said, ‘That’s exactly the kind of network I would like to see.’ There’s no daylight between his vision for this network and my vision for this network. The only reason why I took this job is because it was him in charge. I thought, I can deliver this for him.”

Shifting from Zucker

Part of Licht’s challenge as the new leader of CNN is he’s not the old leader.

Jeff Zucker wasn’t just the head of CNN. He was the driving force of the network, involved in every decision of significance on a daily basis. He ran editorial calls, worked closely with every show’s anchors and producers, and provided daily feedback. He was beloved by many employees who appreciated his attention to detail and care for their careers. CNN media reporters Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy called him “a singular figure in American media” the day after he resigned. His closest comparison, in terms of control over a cable news network, may have been the late Roger Ailes at Fox News.

Licht is purposefully leading CNN differently than Zucker. He’s avoiding saying what he thinks about individual show choices, according to people familiar with his leadership style. Licht has said in private meetings that he’s trying to empower executive producers and show producers to make decisions by themselves. He wants employees to hear marching orders from direct managers rather than him. That’s a significant change for show leaders who have been conditioned to wait for Zucker’s blessing before acting.

Jeff Zucker, left, and David Zaslav

Chris Kleponis | Bloomberg via Getty Images; CNBC

“I love the control room, and I love the feeling of sending a text and seeing it show up on screen 10 minutes later, but there’s so much happening that we’ll be paralyzed if everyone is waiting to hear from me,” said Licht. “That’s just not how I operate.”

Some employees haven’t been sure what to make of Licht’s hands-off style. They fear he’s evaluating them — which he has been. But Licht’s lack of feedback is also strategic. He may only be able to get his employees to trust him with time.

There’s also a hangover effect from the sudden collapse of CNN+, which Zucker pushed relentlessly as the future of the business. Hundreds of employees were hired only to lose their jobs or reapply elsewhere in the company. The streaming service served as a north star for the future of CNN. That’s suddenly gone, leaving an employee base confused about CNN’s future.

A new era

Licht’s approach isn’t the only thing changing. He wants CNN to cover stories more like a newspaper and less like Politico, according to people familiar with his thinking. That means more stories that an average family would discuss around the dinner table and less obsessive focus on politics. He’d like to cover more business, technology and even sports, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO, CNN Worldwide speaks onstage during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront 2022 show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2022 in New York City.

Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images

That’s particularly important for moments in time that aren’t dominated by crises. One of Licht’s major complaints with CNN in recent years has been the network’s tendency to hover in outrage, said the people. Pushing conversations to the extreme on a topic such as a new coronavirus mutation may make for compelling television, but if Americans are moving forward with their days and not even speaking about it, it’s not right for CNN, said the people.

Licht is already contemplating how to cover Trump if he runs for president again in 2024. Licht hasn’t told anchors or reporters to become more centrist, contrary to popular belief, according to people familiar with his conversations with talent. He does want viewpoints from both sides of the political divide to appear on CNN. But he won’t stand for guests who push disinformation, he said.

“The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don’t like rain. We should give space to that. But we will not have someone who comes on and says it’s not raining,” Licht said.

This will require CNN anchors, reporters and bookers to steer guests into topics they’re qualified to speak about. CNN won’t ban guests who have supported the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, but the network will attempt to keep conversations with those people in safe zones of truth, said people familiar with Licht’s thinking.

The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don’t like rain. We should give space to that. But we will not have someone who comes on and says it’s not raining.

Chris Licht

CEO of CNN

The idea Licht would steer CNN toward the political right is somewhat ironic – and wrong, Licht said – given that he credits then-Vice President Joe Biden with saving his life in 2010. Licht had a cerebral hemorrhage that nearly killed him when he was 38. At the time, he was producing NBC’s “Morning Joe.” Biden helped find a top neurosurgeon for Licht at the behest of “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski. Licht would eventually write a book about the incident and how it shaped it life, titled “What I Learned When I Almost Died.” The Daily Beast asked Licht in 2011 how he would fight off criticism from conservatives who believed Biden’s intervention in his care may bias him toward a Democratic agenda.

Rather than pushing politics, Licht has told anchors he’s looking for authenticity on air. That attitude is what prompted him to center the network’s primetime lineup around Tapper. Licht pushed Stephen Colbert to tap into his real personality as host of CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” CNN content chief Ryan Kadro told CNBC earlier this year.

But Tapper’s show has struggled out of the gate, consistently losing to his competition for total audience to MSNBC’s “Alex Wagner Tonight” and Fox News’ “Hannity.” CNN executives are writing off the early poor performance to Tapper experimenting with the form, saying he’s effectually doing a pilot show each night. But it’s possible primetime viewers aren’t looking for the same thing Licht wants — a no-nonsense host who steers clear of outrage.

Months of unease

CNN has about 4,500 employees. For them, the last 18 months have been rife with chaos and trauma.

CNN has been through a litany of destabilizing corporate events dating back to last May. That’s when AT&T announced it would merge WarnerMedia, then CNN’s parent company, with Discovery. Along with the transaction, Zaslav announced he’d replace Jason Kilar as WarnerMedia’s new CEO.

Mergers almost always cause change. But John Malone, a longtime Discovery shareholder who now sits on the combined company’s board, injected a jolt of uncertainty into CNN’s culture in a November interview with CNBC.

“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,” said the billionaire media mogul and longtime chairman of Liberty Media, which is a major shareholder in Warner Bros. Discovery.

Watch CNBC's full interview with Liberty Media's John Malone on WarnerMedia-Discovery deal

The comments heightened anxiety for many CNN staffers, according to six people who were at the company at the time. If Malone didn’t think CNN had “actual” journalists, who were the nearly 1,000 reporters and editors around the world employed by CNN?

Initially, there was a sense CNN may avoid major layoffs or a strategic revamp because Zucker was longtime friends with Zaslav. Zucker believed he was in line to take an even bigger role at the company, according to people familiar with his thought process.

But Zucker abruptly resigned in February after failing to disclose an internal relationship with CNN chief marketing officer Allison Gollust. The shocking revelation arose from due diligence related to another CNN scandal — anchor Chris Cuomo losing his job after the network found he improperly advised his brother, then-N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about how to handle a series of sexual harassment allegations.

Zucker’s departure would have been difficult to navigate under any circumstances given his outsized role. But it was particularly bad timing only three months before the merger, which would bring a brand new corporate leadership team.

The brutally short life of CNN+

Even worse, CNN was just months away from launching CNN+. Merger law didn’t allow Discovery to discuss strategy with CNN leadership. But CNBC reported immediately upon Zucker’s departure that Zaslav wasn’t sold on the idea of CNN+ as a standalone streaming service.

Still, without a directive to stop moving ahead with the launch, CNN+ head Andrew Morse kept pushing forward. CNN+ debuted on March 29, backed by $300 million of investment. On April 8, WarnerMedia officially merged with Discovery, putting Zaslav in charge. Less than two weeks later, WarnerMedia announced it would shut down CNN+. The streaming service lasted for 32 days.

Zaslav called in Licht about three weeks before his previously announced start date of May 1 to bless the death of CNN+. He had to inform hundreds of CNN employees they’d lose their jobs before he even officially started.

In August, Licht ended Sunday afternoon media show “Reliable Sources” and fired Stelter, who had years left on his contract. The decision was Licht’s, not Zaslav’s or Malone’s, according to people familiar with the matter. Last month, Licht let go CNN White House correspondent John Harwood, a former reporter and editor for CNBC.

Both Stelter and Harwood had been outspoken Trump critics. Given Malone’s comments, observers and employees have assumed Licht is surgically removing those who have colored the CNN brand as liberal over the past six years.

CEO of Discovery Communications David Zaslav arrives for the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 06, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

But Licht said that’s “painfully inaccurate.” Part of Licht’s decision to eliminate “Reliable Sources” was his belief media coverage was better served digitally on CNN.com rather than dedicating a one-hour Sunday show to it, as he explained in a response to a column by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Still, Stelter wasn’t offered a chance to stay at CNN in any capacity, even as a digital media reporter, according to people familiar with the matter. There’s clear signaling benefit to those turned off by CNN by quickly moving on from those who gained recognition for being anti-Trump. And Licht doesn’t run from the idea that CNN’s brand was tarnished during the Trump years.

“The brand is the most trusted brand in the world when it comes to journalism, right up there with the BBC,” Licht said. “I think what happened a little bit here in the past was it’s easy to take the quick sugar high of ratings and outrage. So, I’m trying to do no harm to a great brand.”

Investing in digital

A merger, a sudden CEO departure, an immediate end to a digital streaming service, hundreds of layoffs, and the prospect of more to come – it’s no wonder CNN’s workforce is walking on eggshells, a fact Licht and his team have privately acknowledged.

Licht relies on a fairly tight inner circle of CNN veterans and new hires for strategic decisions. He’s brought in Kadro, head of strategy Chris Marlin and head of communications Kris Coratti in recent months, while elevating Virginia Moseley to head of editorial. Amy Entelis, Michael Bass and Ken Jautz also remain at CNN in key roles — the trio asked to run the network after Zucker departed.

Licht has been a TV producer his entire professional life, starting in 1995 at KNBC in Los Angeles. In 2007, he took his first national job, helping to create “Morning Joe” for MSNBC. He left that role in 2011 to be the vice president of programming at CBS News and the executive producer of “CBS This Morning.” In 2016, Licht made the unusual shift from news to comedy, taking on an executive producing job at CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Licht plans to ramp up investment in CNN.com, which his team feels has been mismanaged because all of the digital money and effort went to CNN+, the people said. But he’ll have to do it as Warner Bros. Discovery is trying to cut costs.

CNN is upgrading its behind-the-scenes content management system, or CMS, and its digital video player, which will bring incremental redesigns to CNN.com, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN.com draws more than 180 million monthly unique viewers, making it one of the world’s most popular news sites. The changes should also bring workflow alignments to CNN digital and linear, which should help both entities’ content and organization.

While digital isn’t Licht’s background, he’s worked in recent months to learn more about it, according to people familiar his discussions. CNN still hasn’t named a chief digital officer, although the company’s job posting now says it’s filled. Sources said a deal is nearly done and an announcement will come soon.

CNN’s near-term future is similar to that of Fox News and MSNBC — survive as a subscriber fee-collecting cable network for as long as possible. It’s far more likely to show up as part of the company’s bundled streaming service than a standalone news service. This was a major concern of Kilar and Zucker, who believed CNN would get buried in a large streaming service, built to recommend the latest movies and hit TV series instead of news.

But while Zucker and Kilar were intent on investing in CNN’s future now, Licht’s focus mirrors Zaslav’s: keep cable subscriber fees flowing. Like other division leaders at Warner Bros. Discovery, Licht’s focus is increasing profitability. For now, that means old school television – winning time slots, boosting advertising and throwing his energy into improving CNN’s linear cable news network for U.S. and international audiences.

Disclosure: Comcast’s NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC and CNBC.

WATCH: What contributed to the collapse of CNN+

CNBC's Alex Sherman breaks down why CNN+ is shutting down

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House approves tentative labor deal to avoid rail strike, sends to Senate

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A rail employee works a Union Pacific Intermodal Terminal rail yard on November 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

The House passed legislation Wednesday that would force a tentative rail labor agreement and thwart a national strike. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has promised swift passage.

The House voted 290 to 137 — with 79 Republicans joining 211 Democrats — to pass the legislation, which approves new contracts providing railroad workers with 24% pay increases over five years from 2020 through 2024, immediate payouts averaging $11,000 upon ratification, and an extra paid day off.

Eight Democrats and 129 Republicans voted against the legislation. 

In a separate 221 to 207 vote, the House also approved a resolution to provide seven days of paid sick leave in the contract instead of one, which is rail workers’ main disagreement with the current deal. As it stands rail workers don’t have guaranteed paid sick leave.

The vote comes after President Joe Biden called on Congress to intervene in the stalled talks between railroads and some of the industry’s major unions. He met with the four House and Senate leaders Tuesday in an effort to avoid the economic impacts of a rail strike, which the industry forecasts could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion per day.

How a rail strike could interrupt parcel delivery services

Biden has said he’s reluctant to override the vote against the contract by some unions but that a rail shutdown would “devastate” the economy.

“This overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives makes clear that Democrats and Republicans agree that a rail shutdown would be devastating to our economy and families across the country. The Senate must now act urgently,” Biden said in a statement.

Railways and their labor unions had until Dec. 9 to reach an agreement before workers promised to strike.

In a statement Tuesday, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said passing legislation to enforce an agreement denies them the right to strike and will not fix the problems or concerns of railroad workers.

The union said it was calling on Biden and any member of Congress who “truly supports the working class to act swiftly by passing any sort of reforms and regulations that will provide paid sick leave for all Railroad Workers.”

According to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group, a presidential board created to help resolve contract talks reviewed the union’s request for additional paid sick days and instead offered additional salary.

“If the unions are interested in a holistic discussion for structural changes as it relates to their sick time, I think absolutely the railroad carriers would be up for a holistic discussion, but [they] have not done it in the zero hour,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said at a press conference on rail preparations.

Each union has its own sick day policy, according to National Railway Labor Conference, or NRLC. If an employee is sick, they need to be out of work between four and seven days before they collect their version of sick pay.

The tentative labor deal grants workers one additional personal day, for a total of three personal days for railroad workers. A worker must provide 48 hours notice to request a personal day. The measure approved by the House Wednesday would add paid sick leave to the agreement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on social media before the vote that the tentative agreement did not go far enough.

Strike prep curtails trade

Even the threat of a strike can have impacts on rail movement.

According to federal safety measures, railroad carriers begin prepping for a strike seven days before the strike date. The carriers start to prioritize the securing and movement of sensitive materials such as chlorine for drinking water and hazardous materials.

Ninety-six hours before a strike date, chemicals are no longer transported. According to the American Chemistry Council, railroad industry data shows a drop of 1,975 carloads of chemical shipments during the week of Sept. 10 when the railroads stopped accepting shipments due to the previous threat of a rail strike.

Corey Rosenbusch, president and CEO of The Fertilizer Institute, said railroad carriers have told their members that ammonia shipments, a critical component for fertilizer companies, would not be allowed on the rail starting Dec. 4 if a labor agreement isn’t reached.

“It traditionally takes five to seven days for the supply chain to catch up when you have a shutdown,” said Rosenbusch. “Fertilizer manufacturing would have to be curtailed.”

The four major railroads typically move more than 80% of the agricultural freight traffic, according to the National Grain and Feed Association.

“We are looking for alternatives now to position our product,” said Mike Seyfert, the association’s president and CEO. “We have zero elasticity right now. There are zero drivers, and the barge situation with the low water levels has only added to this challenge.”

Collective bargaining’s future

Brendan Branon, NRLC chair, told CNBC that Congress, in voting on the labor deal, is also weighing in on the future of collective bargaining. He urged Congress to follow the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board, which Biden created in July to resolve the ongoing dispute between major freight rail carriers and unions.

The board crafts its recommendations under a principle known as pattern bargaining, which is the process used by trade unions and employers where demands and entitlements are made.

“Pattern bargaining promotes stability in collective bargaining, and it encourages settlement,” Branon said. “There’s any number of arbitrators and PEBs who have recognized that this is not only acceptable, this is the most appropriate form to settle complex negotiations, especially multi-employer, multi-craft agreements.”

Branon said a number of industries including the railroads have developed a set of clear practices in bargaining, and the additional negotiating by the unions after the tentative agreement departs from the framework recommended by the PEB.

“Departing from a pattern would establish a precedent that there’s still a better outcome achievable, and I think it would pose significant stress and risk for collective bargaining in the future for the railroad industry,” he said.

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Airbnb launches platform allowing renters to host apartments, partnering with major landlords

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Airbnb introduces Airbnb-friendly apartments

Airbnb is partnering with several major landlords and management companies to list designated apartment buildings where renters are allowed to offer short-term sublets on the site.

The company said Wednesday that a new page on its website will list so-called Airbnb-friendly buildings, which will give tenants the option to host their apartments just as homeowners can.

Typically, rental buildings prohibit tenants from subletting for short stays.

To start, Airbnb is showcasing 175 apartment buildings in more than 25 major markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Seattle and Phoenix. Some cities, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., are not available due to local restrictions on short-term rentals.

The platform will help tenants host their rentals, and help the buildings attract tenants who may want to host. How much tenants could earn will vary.

“It depends on the building, depends on the location, there are a lot of different assumptions,” Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb.

Given how much apartment rents have climbed over the past few years, along with home prices and other rising prices, tenants are increasingly looking for ways to supplement their incomes to make their monthly payments. Rents are starting to ease, but are still up 10% from a year ago, according to Apartment List.

Last year, rents rose more than 15% from the year before.

The new page on Airbnb’s website will also offer a calculator to show how much money the tenant can potentially make per month. The calculation changes depending on the number of bedrooms and the number of nights each building allows, as well as the potential asking rents, given the building’s amenities.

Apartment buildings can also charge the primary tenant a fee of up to 20% of the price of each Airbnb use. For those buildings that have been in test mode so far, Airbnb said tenants have hosted an average of nine nights per month with an average income of $900 per month.

All hosts in the participating buildings must be the primary resident, and the buildings can restrict how many nights per month the apartment can be sublet. That’s generally between 80 and 120 nights per year. The restrictions, which can be enforced since the transactions all take place on the portal, are intended to prevent investors from taking part and subletting the apartments full-time.

The apartment building owner or management company also have the right to review the listings before they go live and deactivate a listing if it does not comply with the building’s standards. They can also mandate a government ID from all potential subletters.

Equity Residential and UDR, which are apartment real estate investment trusts, or REITs, and Greystar, the largest apartment management company in the U.S.,  are among the major names offering apartments with hosting privileges on the new Airbnb platform.

“We believe this platform will provide the right tools for both owners and residents to effectively manage short-term rental activity without impacting overall housing supply,” a Greystar representative said.  “We are collaborating with Airbnb on this innovative approach to participate in the 21st century sharing economy in a thoughtful way.”  

CNBC producer Lisa Rizzolo contributed to this story.

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Disney is the biggest winner — and loser — at the Thanksgiving box office

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Geber86 | Getty Images

This year’s Thanksgiving box office was both feast and famine for Walt Disney.

While “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” added $64 million to its domestic tally during the five-day time frame, Disney’s latest animated feature “Strange World” failed to lure in moviegoers, generating just $18.6 million between Wednesday and Sunday and a dismal $11.9 million for the traditional three-day opening.

That is the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated feature since 2000’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” which brought in just under $10 million during its debut, according to data from Comscore.

The dichotomous weekend comes as CEO Bob Iger returns to the helm of the company, promising to restructure Disney in a way that puts creativity at the forefront. Iger is expected to expand on these plans during a company town hall on Monday.

The week of Thanksgiving is typically a robust time at the box office. In the last decade, not counting 2020 and 2021, the five-day Thanksgiving spread — consisting of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday — has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year. 

This year, the domestic Thanksgiving box office tallied around $121 million. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” led the pack, with “Strange World” taking second place. All other films, including Sony’s “Devotion,” Disney and Searchlight’s “The Menu,” Warner Bros.‘ “Black Adam” and Universal’s “The Fabelmans” tallied less than $10 million each.

Not in the mix is Netflix’s “Glass Onion.” The streamer declined to share box office receipts for the latest Rian Johnson film, although it is believed to have tallied between $13 million and $15 million during the five-day stretch.

While “Strange World” outperformed a number of other films this weekend, its muted opening raises concerns about Disney’s animation strategy and if Iger can right the ship.

Disney’s previous CEO Bob Chapek, who took over for Iger just as the pandemic was starting in early 2020, made a series of decisions that alienated the company’s creative leaders in the wake of movie theater closures.

To start, he reorganized the company to funnel creative decisions through a single executive, rather than with each studio, taking power away from the people who were responsible for Disney’s biggest blockbusters.

Chapek then opted to have a number of Pixar and Disney Animation films released directly on the company’s streaming service instead of in theaters. This was in part because, at the time, children weren’t vaccinated and families were avoiding theaters, but also to try and bolster Disney+’s library with new content.

These decisions have led to a lot of confusion for audiences when animated Disney films have been released theatrically. Either these moviegoers are unaware the film is being put into the market or they think it is coming to Disney’s streaming platform.

This happened when Disney released “Lightyear” in cinemas in June. While the two previous Toy Story franchise films each opened to more than $100 million domestically, “Lightyear” snared just $50 million in ticket sales during its debut.

Disney Animation’s “Strange World” follows the Clades, a family of explorers whose differences threaten to topple their latest — and by far — most crucial mission.
Disney

Compounding this strategic decision is the fact that family films have been sparse at the box office in the wake of the pandemic. This means there are fewer opportunities for studios to market film trailers to their designated audience in cinemas and must rely more heavily on television and digital ads.

“No question a slow overall marketplace and a lack of awareness building horsepower for ‘Strange World’ hurt its potential to follow in the tradition of the long line of Disney animated hits over this very important holiday weekend in theaters,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

The Thanksgiving box office crown has long been held by Disney and its animated features, with films like “Frozen II,” “Coco,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” leading the pack in the last decade.

Even “Encanto,” which was released during the Thanksgiving frame last year, managed to generate more than $27 million during its three-day opening and more than $40 million across the full five-day holiday weekend.

Perhaps, “Strange World” will follow a similar path as “Encanto” and gain more attention from families once it is added to Disney+.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “The Fabelmans.”

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