CNN announced Mark Thompson, former chief executive of The New York Times and director-general of the BBC, as the new head of the network on Wednesday, setting the stage for the next phase of growth for the embattled news giant.
According to CNN, Thompson will lead, as chairman and CEO, CNN’s strategy, operations, and business units, including its global portfolio of networks, channels, and programming across broadcast, streaming, and digital. He will also act as editor-in-chief, ultimately responsible for all CNN content.
“There isn’t a more experienced, respected, or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future,” said David Zaslav, CEO of CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery. “Mark is a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world’s most respected news organizations. His strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership, and sheer passion for news make him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time.”
The news follows Warner Bros. Discovery’s (WBD) announcement of a new 24/7 streaming news offering dubbed “CNN Max.” It will launch in the US on Sept. 27.
The offering, which comes after CNN’s first foray into streaming failed last year after just one month, will be part of a test site, or “open beta,” for news as the platform experiments with new product features and original storytelling, the company said. Max subscribers will be able to provide feedback on the service.
Warner Bros. Discovery ‘rolling the dice’ on CNN Max integration
WBD is betting on live news to increase engagement on its flagship streaming platform Max as competition in the space escalates and Wall Street focuses on streaming profitability.
Various initiatives like price increases, ad-supported tiers, and password-sharing crackdowns have been implemented to aid with those efforts — much to the chagrin of subscribers.
But analysts have long viewed live news as a core differentiator as churn, or paying users abandoning their streaming plans, remains a critical problem for streaming services.
“News drives engagement,” Bank of America analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich previously told Yahoo Finance. “News may not bring subscribers on, but it does drive engagement and keeps people on for a while. Since they own it, having news as part of Max makes perfect sense.”
Jon Christian, EVP of digital media supply chain at media and entertainment-focused consulting company Qvest, said WBD already has the ability to seamlessly transition CNN to streaming due to its live network capabilities.
“From a technology standpoint, they’ve already figured out a lot of the live stuff,” he told Yahoo Finance. “It’s not a substantial amount of work to basically have that content be screened and distributed through that platform.”
He added the news component creates an element of stickiness that will likely keep subscribers locked into their respective plans, which is especially important as companies look to avoid month-to-month subscriber turnover.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery has been rethinking the future of CNN as the network grapples with historically low ratings, mass layoffs, the firing of former chief Chris Licht, and a failed streaming campaign with CNN+.
But the integration of CNN Max feels different this time around. Unlike competitors such as Disney, which owns separate apps and offers bundled packages to boost subscriptions, Warner Bros. Discovery decided on a new strategy: one app to rule them all.
“Warner Bros. Discovery rolled the dice,” Christian said. “Zaslav was willing to put it out there and take the risk because nobody else went that far on the aggregation side. Now they have their own kind of cable network on that aggregated app.”
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