CNN CEO Mark Thompson announces sweeping overhaul of news network, cuts 100 jobs



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Mark Thompson, the CNN CEO who was appointed last year to modernize the news network, unveiled a series of sweeping changes at the iconic outlet on Wednesday, announcing plans to create a billion-dollar digital business, experiment with artificial intelligence and overhaul key newsroom structures.

The sweeping measures, which Thompson described in a memo to staff as a “major milestone in CNN’s transformation,” will result in the layoff of about 100 employees, or about 3 percent of the workforce. Those workers, Thompson said, will be eligible for severance packages.

Since his appointment last year, Thompson has been outspoken about the challenges facing CNN, stressing to his staff that swift and drastic action is needed to prepare the television-focused news organization for a digital future.

Like other traditional media companies, CNN has relied heavily on the costs of its traditional cable news package throughout its four-decade history, a declining business that has been upended by the rise of streaming services like Netflix. While the company is still profitable, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, it will be a daunting challenge to move the network’s business away from the declining cable industry that provides the bulk of CNN’s revenue and position it for the future.

Art Streiber/Warner Bros.

Mark Thompson officially began serving as CEO and chairman of CNN on October 9 and will also serve as the network’s editor-in-chief.

“Moving a great news organization into the future isn’t a one-day process. It happens in phases and over time,” Thompson said in his memo to staff. “Today’s announcements don’t answer every question or attempt to solve every challenge we face. But they do represent an important step forward, and I hope you’ll read about them in that spirit.”

Thompson’s announcement that he plans to build a digital subscription business that generates more than $1 billion in revenue is a cornerstone of his strategy to “future-proof” CNN. A direct-to-consumer subscription product has long been seen by CNN leaders as the answer to shrinking revenues caused by the decline of linear television.

Former management launched CNN+, a subscription streaming service that was quickly shuttered when CNN’s former parent company, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery to form Warner Bros. Discovery. The fragmented news streaming service didn’t fit into Warner Bros. Discovery’s corporate strategy, which called for building a superstreamer akin to its cable news package. CNN now has a much more budget-friendly streaming service, CNN Max, which lives alongside other brands like HBO within its parent company’s Max streaming service.

Thompson, who didn’t provide too many details when announcing his plans for a digital subscription business, said CNN “will create products that provide the news, analysis and context people need to know in compelling new formats and experiences.” He said the first product will launch in late 2024.

Thompson, who previously served as CEO of The New York Times, wanted to expand the paper’s products beyond core news, acquiring reviews website The Wirecutter and launching the paper’s cooking division.

“We want to build on CNN.com’s reach with a new focus on engagement and frequency — how long our users spend with us and how often they come back — by improving the quality of the product experience and giving users powerful reasons to come back again,” Thompson said in his memo.

As he works to modernize CNN’s operations, Thompson unveiled plans to embrace artificial intelligence tools, with the goal of “reclaiming the ‘pioneering spirit’ Ted Turner spoke of at our founding and regaining a leadership position in the news experiences of the future.”

Thompson said CNN will take a “strategic step” toward AI to “determine how we can best safely deploy this emerging new technology to serve our audiences and achieve our journalistic goals more effectively and responsively.”

His transformative measures will also include a dramatic overhaul of CNN’s newsroom, which has largely been split into three divisions: U.S. television, international television and digital. Thompson said the structural changes he is implementing will unite the three offices under one roof.

CNN will also embrace a “follow the sun” model, in which news stories at any given time are overseen by the company’s bureaus around the world. As part of that effort, Thompson said CNN’s Hong Kong bureau will take on an “expanded role” and the organization will “make greater use” of its bureaus in London and Los Angeles.

“This will streamline newsgathering workflows and place editorial direction closer to the story,” Thompson explained. “It will better enable us to handle a wider range of platform needs 24 hours a day and will mean we can redeploy newsroom resources when the news cycle takes an unexpected turn.”

While Thompson focused primarily on digital offerings, he also announced plans to breathe new life into CNN’s television programming. Thompson said Charlie Moore, the longtime executive producer of “Anderson Cooper 360” who was recently promoted to vice president of primetime programming, “will find ways to further develop and strengthen the network’s television offerings.” Thompson further announced the creation of a “TV Futures Lab” that “will not only develop and manage streaming and (video on demand) programming for the Max platform, but will also lead new thinking on ways to migrate the linear news experience to other emerging digital environments.”

The changes come after years of strategic shifts and cuts at the pioneering cable news network, which has been left without a clear direction since longtime leader Jeff Zucker abruptly left in early 2022.

Warner Bros. Discovery then brought in veteran television producer Chris Licht to replace Zucker. Licht was forced to lay off hundreds of employees early in his tenure and never laid out a clear path for CNN to move into its digital future. In addition to his lack of vision, Licht’s short one-year tenure was marked by a series of serious missteps.

Thompson, widely credited with revitalizing The Times, was named CEO of CNN last summer after Licht’s tumultuous tenure in that role. Since then, Thompson has consistently spoken about the need to transform CNN’s business but has largely avoided providing specifics. Thompson’s announcement Wednesday signals that he is now ready to execute on a more concrete plan.

Whether Thompson can successfully build a multibillion-dollar digital news business at CNN remains to be seen. Time is also of the essence for Thompson, as the cable news business continues to collapse. At The Times, the paper announced earlier this year that its digital subscription business will generate more than $1 billion in annual revenue, more than a decade after Thompson initially took over and began making changes there.

This story has been updated with additional context and developments.

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