CNN Pins Hope on CEO Thompson for Long-Term Stability After a Turbulent Year
1. Mark Thompson, former New York Times CEO, assumes the role of CNN's CEO on October 9th.
2. Thompson's primary objective is to establish CNN as a sustainable business within the next five years.
3. CNN anticipates a rebound in its 2023 EBITDA, approaching approximately $1 billion, following a decline to $750 million in 2022.
When Chris Licht, the former CEO of CNN, assumed leadership of the news organization last year, his directive from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was clear: transform the network's programming and tone to prioritize news over "advocacy" journalism.
With Licht now out of the picture, Mark Thompson, CNN's incoming CEO starting on October 9th, faces a different mission – everything else.
Thompson has engaged in initial discussions with Zaslav and other CNN leaders regarding strategic ideas and priorities, but he has not made any decisions about CNN's operations. His priority is to meet with the staff and gain an understanding of the business first.
However, some areas of focus have already emerged. Thompson aims to develop digital subscription businesses centered around CNN.com and create content tailored for a younger audience on CNN Max, the live news service on Warner Bros. Discovery's "Max" streaming platform.
Licht, known for his background in programming, was hired by Zaslav but eventually let go due to a lack of employee confidence and an inability to deliver strong ratings. Licht and CNN leadership during his tenure worked to depoliticize the network and reposition it as a neutral source appealing to both Democrats and Republicans.
In contrast, Thompson's mandate is to ensure CNN's long-term sustainability over the next five years. The efforts to change CNN's reputation have largely been completed.
Thompson's priorities are likely to focus on digital strategy, leveraging his successful experience as CEO of The New York Times, where he significantly grew the subscription digital business. One consideration is building subscription products on specific topics within CNN.com while keeping general access free. Additionally, he may explore integrating Bleacher Report with CNN.com.
Thompson will also oversee CNN Max, targeting a younger audience than the traditional cable network's older demographic. Despite the challenges, Thompson will have room to invest in CNN Max, as CNN's EBITDA is expected to improve in 2023 and advertising revenue is likely to rise in 2024, thanks in part to the U.S. presidential election.
To remain relevant, Thompson will need to develop news programming that resonates with millennials and younger viewers. The strategy will involve finding ways to capture viewers' attention for news content on a platform shared with entertainment programming, a challenge the industry is still grappling with.