CNN's Thompson: Let's Get Back The 'Swagger'

The question for CNN continues to be what comes next -- but importantly, going beyond what everyone knows is a strong digital/streaming sensibility.

How can this once “scrappy outsider” -- as new-ish Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide Mark Thompson noted in a recent memo to staffers -- return to its former glory and its rebellious ways from its current status as “tenured incumbent?

Thompson, in a memo to staffers, acknowledged that CNN has been slow to respond to the challenges of the shrinking pay TV system it has relied on for decades.

He promised the long-time cable TV network would “learn some new tricks. Let's look after each other. Let's have some fun.” Founder Ted Turner pushed the network to do all this decades ago.



Thompson did not provide details but noted that its linear TV presence would not go away.

He also focused on younger news viewers: “For many people today, the smartphone is a more important device for consuming news than the TV,” Thompson writes. “Their news prime time is in the morning, not the evening.”

“Video remains key but the news video that most people under 40 watch is vertical [emphasis added] not horizontal and, because neither we nor any other established news provider offer a compelling video-led news experience, they often find their news on generic video and social apps.”

As expected, Thompson also talked up the idea that great journalism would be the key to CNN success going forward. 

If you think all this sounds vague, you are not alone. Promises of transitions to a new way of disseminating news information have plagued legacy TV news channels for a while.

Can CNN, for example, really transform itself into a younger-skewing network and/or thriving streaming platform? And does that mean honing in on finding new “prime time” dayparts to explore?

Core content will be the key in this -- even as CNN focuses on the pursuit of high-quality content.

And then there is this consideration: “Despite all these strengths, there’s currently too little innovation and risk-taking.”

Thompson wondered whether there would be other digital CNN products consumers who might be inclined to pay for content.

Right now, this comes as part of CNN being a part of Warner Bros Discovery’s streaming service Max, where additional to subscriber fees for that service, advertisers can also buy in.

“We must abandon our preconceptions of the limits of what CNN can be and follow the audience to where they are now and where they will be in the years to come...  We need to recapture some of the swagger and innovation of the early CNN.”

Swagger? Okay then.

Look for CNN to bust through the bar doors of existing and future consumers who are hungry for news. Things could then get a bit rough.

2 comments about "CNN's Thompson: Let's Get Back The 'Swagger'".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, January 20, 2024 at 12:34 a.m.

    I don't think that Thompson can get CNN back on track as Jeff Zucker ran CNN into the ground and I don't think it can't return to it's glory in my opinion.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 20, 2024 at 8:28 a.m.

    Looks like the new guy also doesn't get it. Targeting young people via smartphones is an incredibly dumb idea for CNN, especially considering the kinds of content that CNN would likely put out there.

    As for the linear TV battles with Fox and MSNBC---which is where CNN's profits will be earned for  years to come the message is simple; get standout anchors and lead reporters who have opinions and express them ---hopefully favoring the left and/or the right, not just the left---and audiences will bond with them because they agree with their point of view and feel supported by them. Do that and you will start to pull away regular viewers from Fox and MSNBC which, in turn will produce higher Nielsen average minute ratings. Face it---the news, itself, isn't all that interesting on a daily basis and merely reporting it in classic journalistic style isn't going to do the trick---if your goal is higher ratings.

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