An individual walks previous the headquarters of the Cable Information Community (CNN) on November 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Pictures

When former CNN Chief Government 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 rather than “advocacy” journalism.

With Licht now fired, CNN’s incoming CEO Mark Thompson has a brand new job: all the pieces 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, based on individuals conversant in the matter, who declined to talk on the file as a result of the discussions have been non-public. He has made no selections about CNN’s operations and will not till he has had an opportunity to fulfill with staffers and be taught the enterprise, mentioned the individuals.

Nonetheless, some areas of emphasis are clear. Thompson will deal with constructing digital subscription companies round and creating programming for a youthful viewers on CNN Max, the community’s stay information service on Warner Bros. Discovery’s “Max” streaming service, mentioned 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 confidence of his employees and failed to deliver ratings winners.

A lot of Licht’s brief reign, which lasted slightly over a 12 months, centered round depoliticizing CNN. Zaslav and Licht agreed that CNN had gotten a popularity as left-leaning, and tried to refocus the network 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 exhibits, together with a new morning show and a revamped primetime lineup.

Licht struggled to win over CNN workers by purposely taking a hands-off strategy to distinguish his type 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, based on 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 reduce prices, the individuals mentioned. Licht had to lay off hundreds of workers as a part of a broader Warner Bros. Discovery headcount discount.

Mark Thompson, CEO of CNN


Whereas Licht largely targeted on linear programming, Thompson will think about making CNN a sustainable enterprise for the subsequent 5 years — a timeline he is already mentioned with some members of CNN management, based on individuals conversant in the matter. The work to vary CNN’s popularity is basically full, based on individuals conversant in Warner Bros. Discovery executives’ pondering.

How one can cowl Donald Trump, a problem which defined Licht’s tenure, in all probability is not in Thompson’s prime 5 priorities as he begins the job, based on an individual conversant in the matter. Current 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 particular person mentioned.

Entelis, Moseley, Sherling and Leavy all plan to remain at CNN as Thompson takes over as CEO, based on 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.

Digital technique

Thompson’s final job was CEO of the New York Times, which he held from 2012 to 2020. He grew the Occasions’ 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. Throughout 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 might finally develop into CNN’s model of The New York Occasions — a subscription news product that might function extra than simply video.

Thompson will nonetheless should preside over CNN’s linear community, an entity that has declined together with the erosion of the pay-TV cable bundle. However Zaslav is relying on him to make use of and its 149 million month-to-month distinctive guests as a funnel to construct digital subscription companies, mentioned individuals conversant in the matter.

One thought being mentioned is to construct a number of subscription merchandise on particular matters inside, which might stay with no paywall, mentioned the individuals. For purchasers who need all entry, CNN may provide a bundle for a reduction. Paying a month-to-month charge may unlock on-demand or stay CNN programming on sure topics, give customers entry to specific items of in-depth or targeted journalism and supply different advantages.

Thompson may additionally discover methods to combine Bleacher Report with, simply as The New York Occasions has done with The Athletic, the web sports activities media firm it acquired last year for $550 million, based on an individual conversant in the matter.

Programming CNN Max

Earlier than becoming a member of The New York Occasions, Thompson was director-general (a mix of chief govt and editor-in-chief) of the British Broadcasting Company. He’ll have an opportunity to develop new exhibits 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 could 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+, based on individuals conversant in the matter. Consideration 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 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 unravel that downside, together with doubtlessly alerting Max viewers who’re watching on-demand leisure to CNN breaking information.

“It is a recreation 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. “No person has figured it out but.”

That can be Thompson’s job.

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