Major Networks Consider Cutting TV Personality Salaries Amid Declining Viewership

As viewership continues to decline, leading news networks are revisiting the high salaries of their star personalities.

The arrival of Mark Thompson as the new chief of CNN has thrown a spotlight on this issue. Having worked at the BBC and the New York Times where pay is significantly lower, Thompson was surprised by the high salaries U.S. TV news stars earn.

Television news has long been a lucrative position for top personalities, with salaries reaching as high as $30 million annually for anchors like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Fox News’ Sean Hannity and CNN’s Anderson Cooper are close behind with both having an estimated take-home pay of around $25 million, not including additional roles in radio and other network programs. Morning show anchors like ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and CBS’ Gayle King are taking home between $10 and $18 million.

However, as the traditional television business model faces challenges from digital disruption and changing viewer demographics, the era of high paychecks is under scrutiny. Advertising revenues are declining, younger audiences are turning to platforms like Tiktok for news, and TV audiences are aging along with their stars.

Recent high-profile contract failures highlight the risks associated with lucrative anchor deals. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and Shepard Smith’s transition to NBC outlets did not yield the expected returns, with Kelly’s three-year deal lasting less than two and Smith’s evening news show struggling to find an audience. Similarly, CNN’s costly contracts with Chris Chuomo and Don Lemon ended with both anchors leaving the network.

Upon assuming leadership of the struggling network, Thompson has been devising plans to reduce expenses. His first move was discontinuing the morning show CNN This Morning, due to bad ratings. CNN is reportedly in talks to find new positions for the show’s hosts, but the production staff members are out of a job.

According to The Wrap, Thompson wants to “fund his digital-first transformation by cutting anchor salaries.”

“The trend is to get rid of people with big salaries and replace them with people they can pay considerably less. You can see it on air and off air,” an individual familiar with the discussions told The Ankler.

In the last two years, news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, and NBC News have all participated in mass layoffs.

A source infomed Mediaite that other networks will likely adopt Thompson’s strategy, saying, “The business model is evolving; they’re looking at all costs including talent.”