The cable network made the announcement on Wednesday, with its parent company’s chief executive, David Zaslav of Warner Bros Discovery, saying that the former BBC director general “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,” he added.
Mr Thompson will take over on 9 October. After joining the BBC in 1979 as a trainee, the 66-year-old took the helm of the organisation between 2004 and 2012, after which he was the president and CEO of The New York Times Company between 2012 and 2020.
CNN has been beset by crisis during the last year and a half amid plummeting ratings and profits, with the network still recovering after the departure of Mr Licht, with staff morale still low, The Times notes.
Mr Licht left the post in June, after which the network had been led by longtime CNN staffers Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling, as well as David Leavy, an ally of Mr Zaslav.
Mr Zaslav thanked the quartet in a note to staff, mentioning the chaos that has surrounded the network over the last year. Warner Bros Discovery said they would stay in their current positions under the new leadership of Mr Thompson.
“I want to say that I recognize change is not easy, and I know you’ve been through a lot of it,” Mr Zaslav said in his note to employees.
Mr Thompson massively expanded the digital subscription business of The Times to update the company for the digital era. When he joined the paper, a subscriber-only paywall had just been set up. Two years ago, he told a UK outlet that in the early days of his time leading the paper, he faced “skepticism” that it would be possible to grow the number of digital subscribers.
“I just thought we weren’t doing it well enough,” he told Press Gazette. “And we weren’t doing it smart enough. And we weren’t using data properly.”
Today, more than nine million of The Times’ almost 10 million subscribers are digital-only.
CNN is now facing a similar challenge as its 4,000 employees worldwide work to change the company toward a more digital future as the cable business subsides.
Warner Bros Discovery revealed last week that they will introduce a CNN channel on Max next month, the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max.
CNN Max will simulcast shows by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and Anderson Cooper.
The leading man of CNN’s primetime lineup, Chris Cuomo, was fired following an ethics inquiry in December 2021 in connection to the sexual harassment allegations against his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The chairman of the network Jeff Zucker was forced to leave only two months later after he didn’t disclose a relationship with a colleague.
In April last year, days into the life of Warner Bros Discovery, Mr Zaslav and other executives closed down CNN+, the network’s shortlived streaming service.
Yet another longtime star of CNN primetime, Don Lemon, was ousted from the network this year following ageist and sexist comments in connection to GOP presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.