CNN’s Mark Thompson Outlines 5 Ways CNN Will Change in the Future

By Mark Mwachiro 

With Alex MacCallum set to begin her second stint at CNN on Monday, the network’s chairman and CEO, Mark Thompson, sent a memo to staffers, first obtained by The Wrap, adding more details on the work CNN needs to undertake as it readies for the future.

In the follow-up memo to the one he shared with staffers earlier in the year outlining his overall vision for the network, Thompson highlights five areas the network will work on as it shapes itself going forward.

Thompson writes, “We’ve now established five projects to design and implement change at CNN. The first four deal with the four key transformation goals I mentioned in that first memo. The last deals with an important overarching theme: how to ensure that in our culture and communications we live up to our values and build a workplace for everyone that is informed and empowered, diverse, creative and collaborative.”

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The projects outlined by Thompson and the executives responsible include Building Our Digital Future, led by McCallum; A Global Integrated Multimedia News Operation, led by Virginia Moseley, Mike McCarthy, Wendy Brundige, Rachel Smolkin and Marcus Mabry; Future-Proofing TV Production led by Eric Sherling, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz; Developing New Sources of Revenue led by Thompson, Adam Cohn and David Leavy; and Communication and Culture led by Alaka Williams, Johnita Due and Emily Kuhn.

Among the highlights, the projects will allow CNN to develop a comprehensive new strategy for CNN’s digital products and services; combine domestic, international and digital news organizations into a single integrated global multimedia news organization; analyze technology and new ways of using it to help streamline production while continuing quality; learn how to better monetize CNN platforms; and examine how the network can achieve better communications and culture that work across bureaus, time zones and media.

In laying out CNN’s five new projects, Thompson also announced the promotion of Stacey Wolf to group svp and head of business partnerships and negotiations and the hiring of Jamie Benedict as svp, business development and commercial strategy.

Benedict most recently was responsible for the global commercial strategy and digital operations for the Harry Potter franchise but has spent the last twenty years focused on the business of entertainment at BBC Worldwide and Citigroup. He will be part of the team that will be developing new sources of revenue.

TVNewser reached out to CNN regarding Thompson’s memo, but the network did not have anything further to add.

Read Thompson’s full memo below:

Dear all,

When I shared my view of CNN’s future seven weeks ago, I kept returning to the word “change” – the speed at which audience behavior and media economics are changing, and the urgent need for us to meet those challenges by innovating and changing within CNN itself. 

Change is never easy, but I’ve been struck by how many of you have come up to me or emailed me since then to say that you’re up for the challenge but want to know HOW and WHEN the change is going to happen. This – slightly shorter! – note provides an initial answer to these questions.

We’ve now established five projects to design and implement change at CNN. The first four deal with the four key transformation goals I mentioned in that first memo. The last deals with an important overarching theme: how to ensure that in our culture and communications we live up to our values and build a workplace for everyone that is informed and empowered, diverse, creative and collaborative. 

We are launching these change projects in a company with immense strengths and real potential. CNN’s world-beating brand, unrivaled global newsroom, outstanding talent and people give us a great foundation to build on with these five projects. Here they are:

Building our Digital Future

Alex MacCallum will lead efforts to develop a comprehensive new strategy for CNN’s digital products and services and propose whatever organizational changes and investment options are needed to deliver it.

Alex arrives at CNN on Monday and she and her team will begin work at once on a new multimedia strategy across all platforms other than linear TV with a focus on significantly boosting audience engagement and habituation, product innovation, use of data science including machine-learning and GenAI and developing multiple new monetization opportunities across the company.

A Global Integrated Multimedia News Operation

We have begun to scope the practical work needed to bring the domestic, international and digital news organizations together into a single integrated global multimedia news organization.

Virginia Moseley, Mike McCarthy, Wendy Brundige, Rachel Smolkin and Marcus Mabry are working with senior leaders and partners across CNN’s news and digital departments to lead this effort. They have established task forces to sharpen this work and identify ways we can perform at our best as a multiplatform, video-first, talent-led, global news organization.

In this first phase, we’re concentrating on six key pillars that will help us to unify and simplify our processes and embrace innovation. Each pillar has a cohort of team members representing domestic, international, and digital news, with leaders who are responsible for moving the work forward.

The pillars and team leads are:

      •   Breaking News/News of Day Coverage: Matthew Hilk and Josh du Lac
      •   Features: Ellana Lee and Cathy Straight 
      •   Investigations: Patricia DiCarlo and Dan Wright
      •   News Enterprise & Scoops: Leora Kapelus, Adam Levine and Matt Wells
      •   Planning: Laura Bernardini and Mitra Mobasherat
      •   Video: Mike Toppo and Elizabeth Hartfield

Future-proofing TV Production

In the United States and around the world, linear TV will be key to CNN’s audience and financial success for many years to come, but the changing priorities of audiences and changing economics of television mean that we too must adapt and change. Our challenge is to maintain the quality and, where we can, increase the appeal and competitiveness of our linear schedules even as we put them on a more sustainable economic footing.

In some cases, we will look to technology and new ways of working to help streamline production. In others – especially where we see new audience opportunity – we will consider additional investment. As you know, we have already announced and are now implementing significant changes to our US morning and dayside schedule. We have also decided to increase investment in CNN Originals to strengthen our weekend primetime offering both to audiences and advertisers.

Eric Sherling, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz will lead this project, and will involve many of our great producers and operations specialists in this work. 

Developing New Sources of Revenue

Adam Cohn, David Leavy and I are leading an effort to better monetize CNN’s brand and journalism across platforms. As you’ve heard me say several times, when it comes to revenue we need to become hunters rather than farmers.

We need to adopt a more strategic and commercial approach to the distribution of our archive and ongoing news content and work harder with the major digital and AI players to develop relationships that reflect the value and global audience reach of our journalism. We should also explore other new ways to drive revenue from our brand and those categories of specialist and lifestyle-related journalistic content where we already have an audience, well trusted and expert faces and voices, and a steady flow of new content.

In her new role overseeing business partnerships and negotiations, Stacey Wolf is already engaged in negotiating new partnerships and relationships with digital distributors and others. I’m also pleased to announce that Jamie Benedict is now our new SVP, Business Development and Commercial Strategy. Jamie has spent the last twenty years focused on the business of entertainment at BBC Worldwide, Citigroup and the last ten at Warner Bros. in various corporate strategy and business development roles. Most recently, he has been responsible for the global commercial strategy and digital operations for the Harry Potter franchise.

Communication and Culture

Key to our success in executing this transformation across bureaus, time zones and media will be communication and building a strong, diverse culture with high levels of mutual trust and a natural bias towards cooperation and teamwork rather than competition or isolation. I’ve asked Alaka Williams, Johnita Due and Emily Kuhn to lead the development of ideas and practical proposals for improvement in this area.

All five of these projects will be reaching out in the coming weeks for advice, participation and support as they get underway. I’d ask you to help them in any way you can, included sending any thoughts or suggestions you have to the project leaders named in this memo, to your manager, to me or another member of CNN’s leadership team. 

In my experience, it often turns out that someone somewhere within a given organization has already figured out the solution to a knotty problem, or already built the prototype of what should be our next new product. So, let’s all keep in touch – and remember that the best idea often comes from the most junior member of the team!

We all know the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with change – and I won’t pretend that those things won’t also be a part of these five projects. I do hope you’ll approach them with open-mindedness and confidence too. In any established company, many people believe that change is impossible. In my experience once it starts – and especially once it builds up some momentum – it’s amazing what can be achieved.

Mark

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