Aug 29, 2023 - Economy

Former NYT, BBC exec Mark Thompson will be named new head of CNN

Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mark Thompson will lead CNN as the network's new chief, Warner Bros. Discovery plans to announce, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Thompson brings a wealth of operational experience to the role at a critical time for CNN.

  • The company's linear TV business, while still massively profitable, faces decline as cord-cutting increases. Its digital trajectory, for now, is tied to its parent company's streaming efforts.

Details: Sources familiar with WBD's plans say Thompson would be encouraged to manage the network independently, which could include hiring his own team.

  • In June, WBD named David Leavy — a longtime confidant of CEO David Zaslav — as chief operating officer of CNN, amid a crisis of confidence in then-CEO Chris Licht.
  • Days later, when Licht was officially fired, WBD CEO David Zaslav said the search for a new CNN CEO was underway.
  • Zaslav named three interim editorial leaders of the network at the time: Amy Entelis, CNN's executive vice president for talent and content development; Virginia Moseley, CNN's executive vice president of editorial; and Eric Sherling, CNN's executive vice president of U.S. programming.
  • Leavy has continued to manage business-side operations as COO alongside those leaders. A source familiar with the plans says he will remain in that role.
  • Warner Bros. Discovery and CNN declined to comment. Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.
  • Puck first reported the news Tuesday.

Between the lines: Sources within CNN have expressed doubt as to whether all three of the interim editorial leaders would remain with the network once a new CEO is brought in.

  • Entelis is a beloved figure within the newsroom, who — sources say — WBD executives are being encouraged to try to keep on.
  • CNN two weeks ago finally announced an overhaul of its programming lineup. Sherling oversees all of the company's US TV programming. Moseley oversees all of CNN's U.S. editorial.

Context: Last week, WBD confirmed its plans to launch a livestream channel for CNN on its streaming platform Max.

  • CNN executives hope to eventually be able to sell targeted streaming ads on the platform, but for now, "CNN Max" will launch with limited functionality and no targeted digital ads.

Be smart: Thompson will be tasked with helping to transform CNN's business for the digital era.

  • CNN, at its peak during the Trump era, brought in roughly $1 billion in profits annually, but only around 10% of that cash came from digital.

Catch up quick: Thompson, an English native, began his career at the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee and worked his way up the chain at the company until he was named director-general in 2004.

  • He remained with the BBC until 2012, when he was named president and CEO of The New York Times Company.
  • Thompson is credited with transforming The Times from a print-first advertising business to a digital-first subscription business alongside his successor, Meredith Kopit Levien, who he hired in 2013.
  • Semafor, which first broke the news that WBD was in talks with Thompson about the job, also reported that WBD was in talks with prominent British journalist James Harding about the CEO role.

The big picture: Bringing in an experienced outsider to manage CNN helps WBD leaders distance themselves from the day-to-day drama that comes with managing a high-profile global news network.

Disclosure: The author of this story is a paid contributor for CNN.

Go deeper