CNN Names Mark Thompson Its Next Chief Executive

CNN announced Wednesday that Mark Thompson, the former chief executive of The New York Times Company and director general of the BBC, would be its next chairman and chief executive.

Mr. Thompson will start on Oct. 9, Warner Bros. Discovery, the network’s parent company, said in a news release.

“Mark is a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world’s most respected news organizations,” David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, said in a statement. “His strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership and sheer passion for news make him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time.”

CNN, one of the world’s leading news organizations, has been buffeted by a nearly endless string of crises for the last 18 months. Ratings have plunged, profits have fallen, and the network is still reeling from Chris Licht’s tenure as chief executive, which was terminated in June amid sagging staff morale.

Since Mr. Licht’s ouster, the network has been run by three veterans of CNN — Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling — as well as David Leavy, who is a longtime lieutenant of Mr. Zaslav.

In a separate note to CNN employees, Mr. Zaslav thanked the four leaders who steered CNN after Mr. Licht’s departure and acknowledged the turmoil that the network’s staff has endured. Warner Bros. Discovery said in its statement they would continue in their roles, reporting to Mr. Thompson.

“I want to say that I recognize change is not easy, and I know you’ve been through a lot of it,” Mr. Zaslav wrote.

Mr. Thompson, 66, joins the network with more experience running a sprawling news organization than Mr. Licht, a former morning and late-night show producer.

Mr. Thompson started as a trainee at the BBC in 1979 and ascended to the position of director general, the broadcaster’s top position, in 2004. He joined the Times Company as its chief executive in 2012, and was among a group of executives who revitalized the company financially by greatly expanding its digital subscription business.

When Mr. Thompson took over at the Times Company, a subscriber-only paywall for the paper’s website was still in its infancy. In his early days at the company, he said in an interview with a British publication two years ago, he was met with “skepticism” that it was possible to significantly expand the number of digital subscribers.

“I just thought we weren’t doing it well enough,” he said. “And we weren’t doing it smart enough. And we weren’t using data properly.”

The Times now has nearly 10 million subscribers, more than nine million of them digital-only. Mr. Thompson left the company in 2020, and was replaced by Meredith Kopit Levien, who has expanded the subscription strategy.

A top challenge at CNN will be its transition to a more digital-focused future as the cable business declines.

Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced that it would introduce a dedicated CNN channel on Max, the company’s streaming service, in late September. Unlike its cable and broadcast news competitors, CNN Max will simulcast at least three flagship shows — hosted by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper — from its parent network.

Mr. Thompson will also have to steady the nerves of a network with more than 4,000 employees worldwide.

In December 2021, CNN’s leading prime-time star, Chris Cuomo, was fired during an ethics inquiry. Two months later, the CNN chairman Jeff Zucker was abruptly pushed out of the network for failing to disclose a romantic relationship with a colleague. By April 2022, just days after the creation of Warner Bros. Discovery, Mr. Zaslav and senior executives quickly pulled the plug on CNN+, an expensive streaming platform that Mr. Zucker had intended to represent the network’s digital future.

This year, Don Lemon, the prime-time anchor turned morning show host, was fired not long after he made ageist and sexist comments. Then in May, Mr. Licht oversaw a televised forum with former President Donald J. Trump that was roundly criticized, including publicly by the CNN eminence Christiane Amanpour.

Over the last two months, the four people running the network have made programming changes, including installing a full-time anchor for CNN’s morning show and completing a prime-time lineup that had been in flux for more than a year. Mr. Thompson was not involved with those changes, according to two people familiar with the recruitment process, though he was briefed on them.

Amid all the turmoil, viewership has fallen sharply. In August, MSNBC widened its weekday prime-time ratings lead over CNN to its biggest margin since February 2020. Fox News’s lead is even bigger.

Benjamin Mullin is a media reporter for The Times, covering the major companies behind news and entertainment. More about Benjamin Mullin

John Koblin covers the television industry. He is the co-author of “It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO.” More about John Koblin

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