On Thursday, one day after the news broke that David Zaslav was pursuing a new leader for CNN, Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans to launch CNN Max, a 24-hour streaming channel on its recently rebranded Max service. The dual headlines out of Hudson Yards this week portend a potentially significant shift in fortunes for the beleaguered cable news network over the long term, one that could conceivably help move it past the general state of torpidity and inertia that has dragged on morale since Chris Licht’s installment as chief executive sixteen months ago.
In recent days, Zaslav has been working to convince Mark Thompson, the former New York Times Co. and BBC chief, to take over as CNN chairman and C.E.O., sources familiar with Zaslav’s thinking told me. Semafor’s Ben Smith reported earlier this week that Thompson was a leading candidate for the position, but Zaz’s interest appears to go even further: my sources say that the WBD C.E.O. has made up his mind and is actively trying to recruit Thompson. While Zaz and other WBD executives have had conversations with other potential candidates, Zaz appears to be pursuing Thompson with the same singular focus with which he had once pursued Licht. (His impulsiveness may be looked upon more favorably this time around.)
It is by no means clear that Thompson wants the job. But, as I noted earlier this week, he has ample qualifications, having served as a producer and executive at the BBC before leading the New York Times Co.’s transformation into the growth-oriented, product-centric, A.R.R.-minded, fewer-bullshit-costs, multiplatform media-lifestyle bundle that it has become. Further, Thompson would also be seen as a serious choice who could potentially reshape CNN’s digital and streaming efforts, and who at the very least might erase the stain of the Licht era. And while some CNN insiders fear that Thompson’s appointment would disrupt the network just as it is starting to stabilize under its interim leadership, it’s also possible that those interim leaders would stay in place while Thompson worked on broader strategic initiatives. At the Times, Thompson was that rare outsider who proved able to evolve the business without alienating the lifers.