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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 operating the information group final year, he had a mission from his boss, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav: change the community’s programming and tone to emphasize information rather than “advocacy” journalism.
With Licht now fired, CNN’s incoming CEO Mark Thompson has a new job: every part 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 accordance to folks acquainted with the matter, who declined to converse on the document as a result of the discussions have been non-public. He has made no choices about CNN’s operations and will not till he has had a likelihood to meet with staffers and be taught the enterprise, mentioned the folks.
Still, some areas of emphasis are clear. Thompson will focus on constructing digital subscription companies round CNN.com and creating programming for a youthful viewers on CNN Max, the community’s reside information service on Warner Bros. Discovery’s “Max” streaming service, mentioned two of the folks.
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 in the end fired him after Licht misplaced the confidence of his employees and failed to deliver ratings winners.
Much of Licht’s quick reign, which lasted a little over a year, centered round depoliticizing CNN. Zaslav and Licht agreed that CNN had gotten a repute as left-leaning, and tried to refocus the network as a down-the-middle outlet that would attraction 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 new morning show and a revamped primetime lineup.
Licht struggled to win over CNN staff by purposely taking a hands-off method to differentiate his model from former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who resigned in February 2022 after failing to disclose a consensual relationship with a coworker. Zaslav felt Licht moved too slowly to make choices and did not appropriately relate to CNN’s expertise, in accordance to folks acquainted with the matter. Licht believed he could not be his genuine self given Zaslav’s mandate to be a non-nonsense chief who had to reform CNN’s picture and minimize prices, the folks mentioned. Licht had to lay off hundreds of staff as half of a broader Warner Bros. Discovery headcount discount.
Mark Thompson, CEO of CNN
While Licht largely targeted 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 accordance to folks acquainted with the matter. The work to change CNN’s repute is basically full, in accordance to folks acquainted with Warner Bros. Discovery executives’ pondering.
How to cowl Donald Trump, a problem which defined Licht’s tenure, most likely is not in Thompson’s high 5 priorities as he begins the job, in accordance to a individual acquainted with the matter. Existing CNN executives imagine they have already got the infrastructure in place to appropriately deal with the previous president and present Republican major candidate because the 2024 election ramps up, the individual mentioned.
Entelis, Moseley, Sherling and Leavy all plan to keep at CNN as Thompson takes over as CEO, in accordance to folks acquainted with the matter. All will report to Thompson. A CNN spokesperson declined to remark on 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 clear digital technique since Zaslav and Licht determined to kill off CNN+ after simply 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 might finally grow to be CNN’s model of The New York Times — a subscription news product that would function extra than simply video.
Thompson will nonetheless have to preside over CNN’s linear community, an entity that has declined together with the erosion of the pay-TV cable bundle. But Zaslav is counting on him to use CNN.com and its 149 million month-to-month distinctive guests as a funnel to construct digital subscription companies, mentioned folks acquainted with the matter.
One thought being mentioned is to construct a number of subscription merchandise on particular matters inside CNN.com, which might stay with out a paywall, mentioned the folks. For clients who need all entry, CNN may provide a bundle for a low cost. Paying a month-to-month charge may unlock on-demand or reside CNN programming on sure topics, give customers entry to specific items of in-depth or targeted journalism and supply different advantages.
Thompson might also discover methods to combine Bleacher Report with CNN.com, simply as The New York Times has done with The Athletic, the net sports activities media firm it acquired last year for $550 million, in accordance to a individual acquainted with the matter.
Before becoming a member of The New York Times, Thompson was director-general (a mixture of chief govt and editor-in-chief) of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He’ll have a likelihood to develop new reveals at CNN Max, a tab in Warner Bros. Discovery’s bigger Max streaming service.
With CNN Max, Thompson will strive 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 may have some runway to spend money on 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 accordance to folks acquainted with the matter. Attention from the U.S. presidential election must also enhance promoting income in 2024.
To preserve CNN related, Thompson will want to determine 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 might be troublesome 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 clear up that drawback, together with probably alerting Max viewers who’re watching on-demand leisure to CNN breaking information.
“This is a sport that’s nonetheless very a lot to be performed,” JB Perrette, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming operations, mentioned of the streaming-news enterprise last month in an interview with Variety. “Nobody has figured it out but.”
That shall be Thompson’s job.
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