CNN boss Mark Thompson says network faces ‘existential crisis,’ plans eventual switch away from cable TV

CNN’s new boss said the network faces an “existential crisis” because of cord cutting — and that he plans to eventually pivot away from cable TV toward a subscription-based streaming model similar to YouTube and TikTok.

“There are plenty of things we have to fix at CNN,” Mark Thompson, the former New York Times and BBC executive who was hired by Warner Bros. Discovery to dig CNN out of its third-place slump in the cable news race, told Financial Times.

Sir Mark Thompson, the new head of CNN, said he plans to lead the network’s transition away from traditional TV and toward a digital subscriber model. Reuters

He also hinted that more cost-cutting measures are in the offing, saying that there are “likely to be significant opportunities for de-duplication of parallel organizations and structures and activities.”

“I think we can and should be looking for ways of doing what we do both better, but also doing it less expensively,” Thompson said.

The ex-BBC director general has a tall task — turning around CNN that has struggled to keep up in the ratings with Fox News and MSNBC.

Thompson said he was looking at distributing CNN content through smartphones and other devices in a shift to mostly digital — mimicking his tenure as head of The New York Times Company.

“The idea that there might be digital subscription is a serious possibility,” Thompson told FT when asked about his plans for CNN.

CNN has struggled in the ratings race against cable news competitors such as Fox News and MSNBC. AP

While no final decision has been made, “I think it’s quite likely that we’ll end up there,” he said.

Thompson did not specify what form the digital subscription service would take, though he ruled out it would be similar to CNN’s ill-fated CNN+ — the streaming news venture that was shut down less than a month after it launched.

CNN+, the brainchild of former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, was axed as part of a cost-cutting measure just weeks after the news channel was inherited by the newly merged entity Warner Bros. Discovery.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has given Thompson a mandate to cut costs at the news channel. Getty Images for The New York Times

Thompson was hired last year to replace Zucker’s successor, Chris Licht, whose disastrous 13-month tenure as head of the network ended after an unflattering magazine profile portrayed him as thin-skinned and envious of his predecessor’s popularity.

Warner Bros. Discovery has $44 billion in debt that it needs to reduce — leading to speculation that CEO David Zaslav may look to sell CNN.

Thompson pushed back on the idea that he was abandoning TV altogether.

“Do we want to get more competitive in cable TV and by strengthening our schedules? Yes, we do,” he said.

“But the rate at which people have been and probably will continue to cut the cord and not look at cable TV at all is a far, far greater strategic threat than the finer points of competition between individual cable channels.”

Chris Licht, Thompson’s predecessor, was let go last year after a disastrous 13-month tenure at the helm of CNN. Getty Images

During his eight-year tenure as president and CEO of the New York Times Company, Thompson expedited the publication’s transition to a digital, subscription-based news outlet that has been the main driver of revenue since.

Thompson, who left The New York Times Company in 2020, is credited with helping the Times attract millions of digital subscribers worldwide.

The lone bright spot for CNN is its website, which draws some 160 million unique users each month.

Thompson said that one possibility is to have CNN users register so that the network can then sell information about its audience to advertisers.

“We need an entirely new digital strategy,” he told FT.

“I don’t think any broadcaster has cracked the code on how to be yourself in terms of digital products.”

The Post has sought comment from CNN.