Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. has named Mark Thompson as the chief executive officer of CNN, bringing in the former leader of the New York Times and BBC to steady the cable news channel after a period of upheaval.
Thompson, who will also act as editor-in-chief for CNN content, will start on Oct. 9, reporting to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
Thompson, 66, oversaw a surge in digital subscribers at the New York Times Co., which he helmed for eight years. He'll take over CNN at a critical moment, with the 2024 presidential race heating up and bringing the potential to reverse a decline in viewers and advertising revenue.
"The world needs accurate trustworthy news now more than ever," Thompson said in the statement. "Where others see disruption, I see opportunity. I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and get down to work with my new colleagues to build a successful future for CNN."
Under Thompson, the Times expanded into new subscription products, including a popular cooking vertical, and launched The Daily podcast. It also saw a wave of new customers during the presidency of Donald Trump, who criticized the newspaper's coverage of him. In 2019, the Times set a goal of hitting 10 million subscriptions by 2025. It reached that milestone in 2022.
Thompson also previously served as director general of the British Broadcasting Corp., where he led the development of the iPlayer streaming service and oversaw the coverage of London's 2012 Olympics.
He replaces Chris Licht, who stepped down from the cable news channel in June after a brief and tumultuous tenure at the company. Licht, a longtime television executive, had taken over for Jeff Zucker, who left in 2022 after failing to disclose a consensual relationship with a co-worker.
Sliding ratings and belatedly bringing CNN into the streaming era will be among Thompson's chief challenges. Starting next month, CNN will begin airing live news on Max, its parent company's streaming service.
CNN's subscribers have fallen from 85 million in 2020 to 70 million this year, while advertising revenue dropped 33 per cent to $563 million during that time, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. CNN's prime-time audience in the key 25-to-54 age group is down 22 per cent this season from a year ago, averaging 133,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.
"Mark is a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world's most respected news organizations," Zaslav said in the statement. "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."