An individual walks previous the headquarters of the Cable News Network (CNN) on November 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images
When former CNN Chief Executive Officer Chris Licht began working the information group final 12 months, he had a mission from his boss, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav: change the community’s programming and tone to emphasise information reasonably than “advocacy” journalism.
With Licht now fired, CNN’s incoming CEO Mark Thompson has a brand new job: all the things else.
Thompson, who begins at CNN on Oct. 9, has had preliminary discussions with Zaslav and different members of CNN’s management about strategic concepts and priorities, in line with individuals conversant in the matter, who declined to talk on the document as a result of the discussions had been personal. He has made no selections about CNN’s operations and will not till he has had an opportunity to satisfy with staffers and be taught the enterprise, stated the individuals.
Still, some areas of emphasis are clear. Thompson will concentrate on constructing digital subscription companies round CNN.com and creating programming for a youthful viewers on CNN Max, the community’s dwell information service on Warner Bros. Discovery’s “Max” streaming service, stated two of the individuals.
Licht’s background was programming, as he launched “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and “CBS This Morning” with Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell, and Gayle King. Zaslav employed him as a TV programmer — and finally fired him after Licht misplaced the arrogance of his staff and did not ship scores winners.
Much of Licht’s brief reign, which lasted just a little over a 12 months, centered round depoliticizing CNN. Zaslav and Licht agreed that CNN had gotten a fame as left-leaning, and tried to refocus the community as a down-the-middle outlet that might enchantment to each Democrats and Republicans. Licht and CNN’s management since his firing — a four-person workforce of Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling and David Leavy — overhauled CNN’s linear reveals, together with a brand new morning present and a revamped primetime lineup.
Licht struggled to win over CNN staff by purposely taking a hands-off strategy to distinguish his model from former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who resigned in February 2022 after failing to reveal a consensual relationship with a coworker. Zaslav felt Licht moved too slowly to make selections and did not appropriately relate to CNN’s expertise, in line with individuals conversant in the matter. Licht believed he could not be his genuine self given Zaslav’s mandate to be a non-nonsense chief who needed to reform CNN’s picture and minimize prices, the individuals stated. Licht needed to lay off tons of of staff as a part of a broader Warner Bros. Discovery headcount discount.
Mark Thompson, CEO of CNN
While Licht largely centered on linear programming, Thompson will focus on making CNN a sustainable enterprise for the following 5 years — a timeline he is already mentioned with some members of CNN management, in line with individuals conversant in the matter. The work to alter CNN’s fame is essentially full, in line with individuals conversant in Warner Bros. Discovery executives’ pondering.
How to cowl Donald Trump, a difficulty which outlined Licht’s tenure, most likely is not in Thompson’s high 5 priorities as he begins the job, in line with an individual conversant in the matter. Existing CNN executives consider they have already got the infrastructure in place to appropriately deal with the previous president and present Republican main candidate because the 2024 election ramps up, the individual stated.
Entelis, Moseley, Sherling and Leavy all plan to remain at CNN as Thompson takes over as CEO, in line with individuals conversant in the matter. All will report back to Thompson. A CNN spokesperson declined to touch upon hypothesis about Thompson’s eventual strikes and technique.
Thompson’s final job was CEO of the New York Times, which he held from 2012 to 2020. He grew the Times’ subscription digital enterprise, which launched in 2011, from lower than 1 million subscribers to about 7 million earlier than he left the corporate in September 2020. During his time because the newspaper’s CEO, shares rose from $9 to about $43 — a achieve of greater than 375%.
CNN hasn’t had a transparent digital technique since Zaslav and Licht determined to kill off CNN+ after only a month in 2022. CNN+, on the time, was a little-watched streaming service that launched with out a lot content material. Former CNN chief Jeff Zucker and then-CNN digital chief Andrew Morse hoped it will finally turn out to be CNN’s model of The New York Times — a subscription information product that might characteristic extra than simply video.
Thompson will nonetheless must preside over CNN’s linear community, an entity that has declined together with the erosion of the pay-TV cable bundle. But Zaslav is relying on him to make use of CNN.com and its 149 million month-to-month distinctive guests as a funnel to construct digital subscription companies, stated individuals conversant in the matter.
One concept being mentioned is to construct a number of subscription merchandise on particular subjects inside CNN.com, which might stay with no paywall, stated the individuals. For clients who need all entry, CNN might provide a bundle for a reduction. Paying a month-to-month price might unlock on-demand or dwell CNN programming on sure topics, give customers entry to explicit items of in-depth or centered journalism and supply different advantages.
Thompson may discover methods to combine Bleacher Report with CNN.com, simply as The New York Times has achieved with The Athletic, the web sports activities media firm it acquired final 12 months for $550 million, in line with an individual conversant in the matter.
Programming CNN Max
Before becoming a member of The New York Times, Thompson was director-general (a mix of chief government and editor-in-chief) of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He’ll have an opportunity to develop new reveals at CNN Max, a tab in Warner Bros. Discovery’s bigger Max streaming service.
With CNN Max, Thompson will attempt to program for a youthful viewers. CNN’s linear community largely appeals to older, 60-and-up adults who nonetheless subscribe to conventional pay-TV.
Thompson can have some runway to put money into CNN Max. CNN’s earnings earlier than curiosity, taxes, depreciation, and amortization is predicted to be nearer to $1 billion in 2023 after dipping to $750 million in 2022 when it had about $200 million in losses tied to CNN+, in line with individuals conversant in the matter. Attention from the U.S. presidential election must also enhance promoting income in 2024.
To maintain CNN related, Thompson might want to work out information programming that millennials and youthful viewers will watch. Former CNN management feared information content material would get swallowed up by a bigger streaming service, believing it will be tough to persuade viewers to eschew leisure programming when each are on the identical platform. That led Zucker and former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar to push for CNN+, a standalone streaming service.
CNN has already begun contemplating concepts to unravel that downside, together with probably alerting Max viewers who’re watching on-demand leisure to CNN breaking information.
“This is a game that is still very much to be played,” JB Perrette, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming operations, stated of the streaming-news enterprise final month in an interview with Variety. “Nobody has figured it out yet.”
That can be Thompson’s job.
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