CNN’s survival plan under Thompson
January 19, 2024
By Chris Forrester
Sir Mark Thompson, who was previously director general of the BBC and also CEO at The New York Times, was appointed Chairman, CEO and Editor in Chief at CNN – owned by Warner Bros Discovery – in August 2023. Thompson’s plan has been outlined to staff at the global news broadcaster in a 100-day report on his findings.
Some key elements include:
· Combining all CNN’s various news-gathering groups into one entity
· Combining broadcast news-gathering with its digital and streaming activity
· Improving CNN’s video offering on Smartphones
· Expanding CNN’s efforts in Smartphones
· Exploring a Digital subscription model for Smartphones
· Maintaining the central proposition of CNN’s news offering
Thompson’s memo to staff stated that CNN was nowhere near ready for the future and the company needed to step up its digital game. He made a number of new appointments and editorial shifts to better reflect his aims.
“For many people today, the Smartphone is a more important device for consuming news than the TV,” he wrote in the memo. “Their news prime time is in the morning, not the evening.”
However, Thompson admitted that he was unsure how to “crack the code” and translate the offering into a great news experience.
There was a time when CNN dominated cable’s news offering. Today the picture is very different. It attracts only around half the viewers of rival MSNBC, and only a third of Fox News which now leads the market.
Thompson praised founder Ted Turner, saying “Ted never saw his creation merely as a business breakthrough. He believed CNN had a mission, because for him bringing timely, trustworthy and fair-minded news to audiences everywhere was also a way of making the world a better place.”
“Now technology and audiences are on the move again. For many people today, the smartphone is a more important device for consuming news than the TV. Their news primetime is in the morning not the evening. Video remains key but the news video that most people under 40 watch is vertical not horizontal and, because neither we nor any other established news provider offer a compelling video-led news experience, they often find their news on generic video and social apps. Many get to know CNN reporting and CNN anchors on YouTube or TikTok without connecting them with CNN at all,” he added.
“The traditional TV universe is shrinking steadily. The shift from linear broadcast to digital means that the audience for all news channels on US cable has fallen by roughly a fifth in just the past two years. TV remains an important way of reaching some loyal audiences, but the critical revenue we currently derive from it is increasingly under threat,” Thompson told staff.