Thursday, July 18, 2024

CNN CEO Mark Thompson to lay off 100 employees as he discloses fresh turnaround plans

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CNN CEO Mark Thompson revealed to staffers Wednesday a drastic new plan to push the cable news network into the digital age — and signaled that job cuts are coming.

The media boss called the incoming changes — which will include a new subscription service and structural changes to the newsroom — a “key milestone in the transformation of CNN” in his memo to company employees.

Thompson said he plans to lay off 100 employees – about three percent of the workforce – as well as build a new digital subscription service that he hopes will generate more than $1 billion in revenue. 

CEO Mark Thompson revealed plans Wednesday in a staff memo to overhaul the CNN newsroom structure. Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

The CEO was brought on last summer to help push the television news network into the future, after pulling off a turnaround at The New York Times. Thompson acquired tech review company Wirecutter and launched the cooking vertical during his nearly decade-long tenure at The Times.

Now at CNN, Thompson faces a company struggling as the cable news business – and its revenue – steadily fades. 

Originally founded by Ted Turner in 1980 as a 24-hour cable news network – a revolutionary concept at the time – CNN has long relied on distribution fees from cable companies. 

While CNN and parent company Warner Bros Discovery remain profitable, the cable TV business model is becoming defunct as Netflix and other popular streaming services have reinvented the television industry.

“Turning a great news organization towards the future is not a one-day affair,” Thompson said in his memo. “It happens in stages and over time.”

A definitive CNN subscription business has been a long-time coming. While streaming service CNN+ was launched in March 2022, it was nearly immediately canceled when parent company WarnerMedia merged with Discovery the following month.

CEO Mark Thompson previously helped push The New York Times into the digital age. Getty Images
CEO Mark Thompson’s plans include a new subscription service that he claims will generate $1 billion. Getty Images

Now, budget-friendly streaming service CNN Max can be found within the parent company’s Max umbrella.

But Thompson said he plans to create a subscription that will generate more than $1 billion for the company.

Another proposed shift is a reimagining of the CNN newsroom. While currently split into three divisions – US television, international television and digital – Thompson wants to combine the three sections under one umbrella.

Thompson also wants to further involve artificial intelligence tools in the newsroom to “reclaim” Turner’s “pioneering spirit.”

The CEO described embracing a “follow the sun” news model that would place greater importance on 24/7 worldwide stories by expanding the Hong Kong bureau and leaning more heavily on the London and LA bureaus. 

“It will better equip us to handle a wider array of platform needs around the clock and will mean we can flex news desk resources when the news cycle takes an unexpected turn,” Thompson said.

CNN CEO Mark Thompson (pictured) was brought on board to replace Chris Licht. Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

Along with the digital changes, Thompson announced minor updates to CNN’s television programming, including unspecified new ideas from “Anderson Cooper 360” Executive Producer Charlie Moore and the creation of a “TV Futures Lab” to “lead new thinking about ways to migrate the linear news experience to other new digital environments.”

Thompson’s announcement comes after years of leadership turmoil.

Longtime CEO Jeff Zucker abruptly left the company in 2022 and was replaced by television producer Chris Licht. 

Licht laid off hundreds of CNN staffers early into his new position. After Licht’s brief one-year tenure, Thompson was appointed to repeat the success he had seen at The New York Times – which announced this year that its digital subscription business will earn more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

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