The veteran journalist, who arrived at the NBCUniversal venue in the fall of 2020 with a mission to grow the network’s audience in early evening with a non-partisan general-news program, will leave CNBC as it focuses more intently on its core product: information tailored for viewers interested in the markets and personal finance.
Smith’s last show will air later in November, and CNBC intends to replace his program, “The News with Shepard Smith,” with an evening hour devoted to business news in early 2023. The anchors for that program will be named at a later date, and it remains to be seen whether CNBC will select candidates from among its current roster or seek to woo someone from outside its ranks.
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The maneuver is an early one for CNBC under its new leader, KC Sullivan, who took its reins earlier this year after the departure of longtime chief Mark Hoffman. Sullivan knows something about the needs of business audiences. He is a former chief financial officer of CNBC and of NBCU’s larger portfolio of news properties.
In a memo sent to staffers Thursday, Sullivan indicated the network needed to “prioritize and focus on our core strengths of business news and personal finance. This is key in our efforts to continue building on our position as the number one global business news brand and to connect with new audiences of all kinds interested in their financial future.” He added: “We need to further invest in business news content that provides our audiences actionable understanding of the complex developments in global markets and the implications on institutions, investors and individuals. During times of flux and uncertainty, our place in the lives of those we touch on-air, online and in person becomes even clearer, and more essential.”
CNBC has long had to navigate a challenge after traditional work hours, hoping to keep business-news audiences paying attention after the stock markets have closed for the day. Over the course of its history, CNBC tested talk shows led by John McEnroe, Donny Deutsch and Dennis Miller, and, more recently, utilized competition shows such as “Shark Tank” and “The Profit.”
Smith’s program brought something new to the mix: a general-interest news show that CNBC executives hoped would keep the crowd that had assembled for Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money,” grow it and deliver it into primetime. While CNBC no longer uses Nielsen to measure audiences during its news day, a decision borne out of frustration over counting viewers in offices and on the road, it does rely on the traditional ratings service for evening and primetime fare.
The anchor brought with him a reputation for hard-hitting delivery and a fierce commitment to objective reportage. In the final moments of his first broadcast in 2020, Smith told viewers his show intended to deliver “thoughtful, honest reporting without favor or fear.”
He had been known for similar brio during his long tenure with Fox News Channel. He left that outlet after clashing with primetime host Tucker Carlson, who disparaged the comments made by a guest on Smith’s regular afternoon program. Smith left in 2019 even though he had more time left on his contract, raising eyebrows in the media world and bringing new attention to the balance of news and opinion programming on the Fox Corp.-backed outlet.
NBCUniversal has tried to harness Fox News personalities several times in the recent past, and failed. Greta Van Susteren, who held forth in Fox News primetime for fourteen years, found tougher terrain at MSNBC, where an early-evening program she launched was on the air for just six months. Megyn Kelly, whose star soared while anchoring a primetime show at Fox News, had a tumultuous era at NBC News, where she was asked to anchor both a Sunday newsmagazine and a morning program, neither of which could emerge from under the intense scrutiny the anchor generated.
CNBC’s Sullivan had praise for Smith’s efforts. Though the program did not trump the viewership of its competitors, CNBC said it attracted the most affluent crowd among cable-news programs.
“The quality journalism Shep and his team delivered each weeknight was exemplary and not lost on us or our 7pm audience. ‘The News ‘increased CNBC’s 7pm viewership average and attracted the most affluent audience of any primetime cable news program. At a time when misinformation and disinformation is rampant, ‘The News’ succeeded in providing audiences with the clearest understanding of the facts,” said Sullivan, who added: “Decisions like these are not arrived at hastily or taken lightly. I believe this decision will ultimately help to strengthen our brand and the value we provide our audiences.”
As for Smith, might he have other avenues to pursue? His relentless “just the facts” demeanor would seem to make him the perfect candidate for CNN as it develops under Warner Bros. Discovery. That network has yet to unveil its new plans for its 9 p.m. slot in the wake of an announcement Wednesday that hour’s current occupant, Jake Tapper, would return to his late-afternoon show, “The Lead,” following the midterm elections.