Jan 17, 2024 - Business

New CNN CEO outlines digital strategy, hints at subscription product

Mark Thompson will start as chairman and CEO of CNN on Oct. 9. Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Months after being named the new CEO of CNN Worldwide, Mark Thompson on Wednesday unveiled his strategy for bringing the decades-old cable new network for the digital era.

Why it matters: While CNN's linear TV business is still massively profitable, the network's TV revenues face terminal decline as cord-cutting increases.

Details: In a detailed staff memo, Thompson, a former New York Times and BBC executive, said Times and CNN alum Alex MacCallum will lead a team "more single-mindedly focused on developing the products and the subscription and other relationships with users" that will make CNN indispensable to younger audiences.

  • MacCallum was announced as the network's new digital product lead Wednesday.

Thompson also said he plans to create a "multimedia newsroom" that will combine the leadership of CNN's international, domestic and digital news operations.

  • Effective immediately, Thompson named longtime CNN executive Virginia Moseley as the network's first executive editor. CNN's international news chief Mike McCarthy was named managing editor, reporting to Moseley.
  • "We will also integrate linear and digital journalism more fully desk by desk and make data science and product expertise more available to our news teams than they are now," Thompson added.

Between the lines: Thompson didn't offer further details about what those products would look like, but suggested that CNN's strategy must lean more heavily into digital video formats found on social media, over TV, to survive.

  • He suggested that if CNN built quality digital products, audiences would be willing to pay for them.
  • "Technology may be disrupting our traditional revenue, but it offers us many new opportunities to reach audiences and deliver the kind of quality journalism they will pay for," he wrote.
  • He also suggested the network will need to start engaging more with generative artificial intelligence and other emergent technologies.

Between the lines: CNN's digital strategy has previously been tied to the streaming efforts of Warner Bros. Discovery.

  • CNN currently has a 24-hour streaming presence on WBD's streaming service, Max, where it's working to make money from streaming ads.
  • In his note, Thompson acknowledged that CNN would need to build its own tools and technologies to reach and monetize its audience. "We need new registration/customer management and, above all, new monetization capabilities to access new sources of revenue," he said.
  • Thompson announced a new commercial group that will report to David Leavy, the network's chief operating officer. He elevated current CNN executives to new roles on the business side to facilitate that transformation and suggested at least one senior-level business role would be filled in coming weeks.
  • Longtime CNN executive Emily Kuhn, who managed all of CNN's communications during a tumultuous period, has been promoted to SVP, Communications, leading the company's global communications team,

The big picture: Thompson's memo addresses what many at CNN have feared for the past few years: "So far CNN has been slow to respond to the challenge," of digital transformation, he wrote.

  • But he also made a point to assure CNN's television employees that the network's TV domestic and international lineups "are one of the jewels in our crown and I believe that linear TV will play a central and vital role in CNN's success as far out as the eye can see."

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

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