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CNN’s big plan to save itself is to be everywhere your phone is

CNN’s big plan to save itself is to be everywhere your phone is


A memo from CEO Mark Thompson outlines the news service’s plan to survive a post-cable world.

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Cable, like broadcast TV, is on the decline. People are increasingly getting their news from social media and digital media (hello), which means the big cable news channels are seeing declines in viewership and subsequent declines in ad dollars. Now, a memo from CNN CEO Mark Thompson outlines some of the early plans to try to save CNN from cable — and grow its presence on the phone.

As noted by The Wall Street Journal, which has seen the memo, the first step will be combining CNN’s myriad news-gathering groups into one team. CNN, in its current structure, has a TV-focused operation, a streaming one, and a digital one. They communicate, but they’re separate organizations with separate leaders and goals. Thompson will combine them and then create a new organization focused on finding new ways to grow CNN’s audience.

This merging isn’t uncommon for media companies that need to pivot in the face of declining audiences. For the last 20 years, we’ve watched a number of magazines create a digital arm, separate from their print one, to provide for digital audiences. Oftentimes, those two separate organizations eventually get folded into one group — though there are still plenty of magazines that continue to have two groups under one brand.

Thompson did something similar when he joined The New York Times as CEO in 2012. He poured money and resources into the digital arm of the paper and built a remarkably thriving digital subscription business.

Beyond a major restructuring of CNN, Thompson is also working on the problem of how to get people to use CNN on their phones. “For many people today, the smartphone is a more important device for consuming news than the TV,” he wrote in the memo. “Their news prime time is in the morning, not the evening.”

Thompson and CNN don’t yet have a solution for getting people to go to CNN on mobile devices. “I don’t think anyone’s yet cracked the code on how that translates, truly translates to a great news experience,” he wrote.

At The New York Times, Thompson accomplished this with a robust app experience and subscriptions. I spend an hour a day in my app version of the paper playing the daily puzzles, and on the weekend, I’m more than happy to make a recipe from its cooking section — that I pay a subscription to access.

But that won’t necessarily be the solution for the org that created the concept of 24/7 news. “Having got to [the] top of one hill,” Thompson wrote — citing his success at The New York Times, “I’ve chosen to start at the bottom of another one.”