CNN is bringing in a former chief executive of the BBC and The New York Times in an attempt to turn around a news organization that has burned through two leaders and bled viewers over the past two years. Mark Thompson was appointed as chair and CEO of CNN by David Zaslav, head of the network’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, which made the announcement Wednesday. Thompson replaces Chris Licht, who was fired in June, and a four-person team that had been running CNN in the interim.
Thompson, who left the Times in 2020 after eight years as that company’s president and CEO, is credited with transforming it to a digital-first organization more dependent on paid subscribers than the collapsing advertising market that has doomed many newspapers. The England native was director-general of the BBC from 2004 to 2012.
Zaslav called him a “true innovator” who pushed two of the world’s most respected news organizations into the digital age.
“His strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership and sheer passion for news makes him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time,” he said.
In a statement, Thompson — who has been knighted by the British government — said that “where others see disruption, I see opportunity.”
Licht was let go after a stormy 13 months that saw CNN fall well behind Fox News and MSNBC in popularity, with opinionated news connecting more with viewers in a politically polarized time. He had encouraged CNN to find a middle ground and flex its newsgathering muscles.
He was doomed at the end by a damning Atlantic magazine profile that showed his failure to connect with many employees, many loyal to his predecessor, Jeff Zucker. Zucker was pushed out in February 2022 after failing to disclose to his bosses a romantic relationship with a fellow network executive.
Besides ratings, CNN’s finances have suffered. The network earned $892 in profit in 2022, down from $1.08 billion in 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Shortly after Licht was named to his new job, CNN’s new corporate masters pulled the plug on a well-publicized streaming service after only weeks in operation. Just this month, it announced that CNN news would be part of its Max streaming service.
CNN also fired two popular prime-time hosts over the past two years, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, the latter after an ill-fated move to a new morning show.
Licht never settled on a new prime-time lineup in his tenure. The four-person interim leadership team — Amy Entelis, David Leavy, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling — recently set a new lineup that includes Kaitlan Collins, Abby Phillip and Laura Coates in weeknight roles, with veteran Christiane Amanpour and Chris Wallace getting new weekend gigs.
Thompson’s selection was first reported Tuesday night by Puck.
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