Mark Thompson is stepping in as the next CEO and chairman of CNN.
Thompson previously served as president and CEO of The New York Times from 2012 to 2020, as well as director-general of the BBC from 2004 to 2012. Thompson’s first day at the CNN office will be Oct. 9, he told CNN staffers in a memo.
“I am confident he is exactly the leader we need to take the helm of CNN at this pivotal time,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav told staff in a note Wednesday. “Big thanks to all of you for your patience, commitment, and hard work. Simply stated: the real strength of CNN is its people, and you continue to set the highest standard in all that you do.”
The appointment of Thompson, a 40-year news veteran who was recently knighted for his services in media, occurs just as the presidential campaign cycle in the U.S. accelerates.
Thompson takes the reins of CNN as cord cutting has ramped up for the traditional TV bundle and ratings have lagged behind other cable news competitors. Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced it would add CNN to its Max streaming service beginning Sept. 27. It will serve as the network’s answer to streaming as a 24/7 live news hub.
“As everyone knows, TV journalism is approaching peak disruption. We face pressure from every direction – structural, political, cultural, you name it. Like many other media organizations, CNN has recently felt some of the uncertainty and heartache that comes with all of that,” Thompson wrote to CNN staff. “There’s no magic wand that I or anyone else can wield to make this disruption go away. But what I can say is that where others see threat, I see opportunity – especially given CNN’s great brand and the strength of its journalism.”
His hiring also follows what has been a tumultuous time for the cable news network, especially for its leadership.
In early 2022, longtime leader Jeff Zucker resigned after failing to disclose a romantic relationship with a high-ranking colleague – who also once served as communications director to ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Zucker’s resignation came as a shock to staffers. Shortly after, prime-time host Chris Cuomo was fired after CNN said it obtained new information about his controversial role in advising his brother.
Soon after Zucker stepped down, CNN’s parent company ownership changed hands with the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery. Before closing the deal, Zaslav had appointed Licht as CNN’s CEO, who was previously the chief executive behind the “CBS This Morning” news program and “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. At the time, Zaslav called Licht a “dynamic and creative producer, an engaging and thoughtful journalist, and a true news person.”
One of Licht’s first moves was the swift closure of CNN+, the cable news network’s then-newly launched streaming platform that was failing to garner viewership in its early days.
Licht’s time at CNN was short, however. In June, Licht departed CNN after leading the network for little more than a year that included a series of programming missteps and rock-bottom ratings. He had also drawn criticism in the weeks before his ouster after CNN hosted a town hall with Donald Trump that was packed with tons of fans who cheered on the former president as he pushed election lies and insulted host Kaitlan Collins.
Shortly after, The Atlantic published an unflattering 15,000-word profile of Licht titled “Inside the Meltdown at CNN,” which likely sealed his fate. Although Licht apologized to CNN staffers it wasn’t enough and his departure was announced in the ensuing days.
While network executives Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling and David Leavy led CNN since Licht left CNN, Warner Bros. Discovery brass searched for a replacement for the leadership role.
Read Zaslav’s memo to staff:
I wanted to tell you first that we will be welcoming a new leader for CNN Worldwide. Shortly, we will announce that highly respected news executive Mark Thompson will be joining our leadership team as Chairman and CEO, effective October 9, reporting directly to me. Mark has been in the news business for more than four decades and, as many of you are aware, he has an exceptional track-record of innovation and excellence. I am confident he is exactly the leader we need to take the helm of CNN at this pivotal time.
I’ll share more about Mark in a moment. But before I do, I want to say that I recognize change is not easy, and I know you’ve been through a lot of it. Big thanks to all of you for your patience, commitment, and hard work. Simply stated: the real strength of CNN is its people, and you continue to set the highest standard in all that you do.
I want to give a special thanks to Amy, David, Virginia and Eric for the exceptional job they’ve done leading CNN and moving the business forward during this interim period. They pulled together as a team and really delivered, and I am personally grateful for their hard work and sacrifices, as they added significant responsibilities on top of their substantial functional roles. I know they’ll be a huge help to Mark when he comes on board.
Mark has led and transformed two of the world’s most respected news organizations. Most recently, he served as president and CEO of The New York Times from 2012-2020, building the company into a digital-subscription powerhouse. In fact, under his leadership, the Times increased its paid digital subscriptions tenfold and more than doubled its total digital revenues.
Before that, Mark served as director-general of the BBC from 2004-2012, where he presided over one of the world’s biggest newsrooms as well as scores of national and international TV and radio services and extensive global digital news assets. He led the development of the BBC iPlayer, the world’s first streaming service from a major broadcaster, expanded web and smartphone services from news to education to entertainment, and oversaw coverage of the biggest events of the time from the global financial crisis of 2008-09 to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Before becoming a senior executive, Mark was a working researcher, director, field producer and award-winning showrunner in the BBC’s news division.
I’ve long admired Mark’s transformative leadership and his ability to inspire organizations to raise their own ambitions and sense of what’s possible… and achieve it. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with him over the last few weeks and couldn’t be more excited for all that’s in store.
Please join me in welcoming Mark to the team!
Read Thompson’s note to CNN staffers:
No doubt you’ve heard the news and read David Zaslav’s message confirming that I’m to be CNN’s next Chairman and CEO. I just wanted to add a few words of my own.
I can’t tell you how pleased and proud I am to be joining you after so many years of watching – and envying – your work from the outside. Over the decades, I’ve bumped into CNN teams on story after story from Washington, DC to Tiananmen Square. Two months ago I spent a day watching CNN’s spell-binding coverage of the Wagner rebellion, and I watched and read our major competitors too. That day confirmed an old truth to me: when it matters most, CNN is the best place to find out what’s happening. You always rise to the occasion.
As everyone knows, TV journalism is approaching peak disruption. We face pressure from every direction – structural, political, cultural, you name it. Like many other media organizations, CNN has recently felt some of the uncertainty and heartache that comes with all of that. There’s no magic wand that I or anyone else can wield to make this disruption go away. But what I can say is that where others see threat, I see opportunity – especially given CNN’s great brand and the strength of its journalism. I’ve spent most of the past twenty years figuring out with colleagues at some of the world’s other great news operations not just how to survive the revolution, but to thrive in it and gain new audiences and revenue streams. I aim to do the same at CNN. It won’t be myplan that wins the day but our plan, the plan we devise and implement together. Which is why, particularly in the early weeks, you’ll find me doing a lot more listening and learning than holding forth.
I want to add my personal thanks to the interim leadership team. Amy, David, Virginia and Eric have done a terrific job steering the ship over the past couple of months and I look forward to working with them.
My first official day in the office is 9 October but I’m planning to pop in a few times before then. So if you see a tall figure with an English accent and a loud laugh, you’ll know who it is.
All the best,