CNN’s Biggest Stars Are in for a Rude Awakening as New CEO Digs In: Report

Turning around a failing business that is bleeding money is never an easy task. You have to place a tourniquet on it as quickly as possible. Only then can you tackle the rest.

The task is grueling. CNN’s new CEO Mark Thompson is familiar. Charged with revamping the failing network back to profitability, he is leaning toward a digital-first strategy, with linear broadcasting relegated to the back seat.

Insiders told The Wrap Thompson plans to find the funding to embark on this aggressive transformation in a place CNN talent most certainly won’t be happy about. Huge salaries are expected to be shed, and in some cases, the actual people along with them.

Thompson can no longer justify the weight of this expense. Paying prime-time anchor Anderson Cooper $20 million when viewership of his show can’t even crack a million hardly makes sense.  “Anderson Cooper 360” is the most successful show CNN broadcasts, yet it only averages 717,000 viewers. Combine Cooper’s salary with Wolf Blitzer’s reported salary of $15 million, Jake Tapper’s $8.5 million, and Chris Wallace’s cool $8 million per year — that’s a ton of cash to shell out when they average just 668,000 viewers in prime time, according to The Wrap.

The network has been in a nose dive for some time now, while Fox News and MSNBC continue to eat up market share and ratings. The morning show “Fox & Friends” is trouncing “Anderson Cooper 360” by approximately 300,000 viewers, on average. The History Channel is also beating the network. If that isn’t embarrassing enough, the INSP cable network, founded by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, sits ahead of CNN as well, The Wrap reported. When the Bakkers are leading Tapper, you know you’ve got problems.

It seems likely that Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper will soon be getting some very bad news. Maybe not as severe as Don Lemon, who was suddenly ousted from the network in April 2023 alongside his $7-million-a-year salary due to a very public clash that he had with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins on “CNN This Morning.” That tiff became infamous across competitive networks.

Thompson, who previously led both the BBC as its director-general and The New York Times as its CEO, will draw on his experiences streamlining both those operations back to profitability.

In addition to slashing the talent budget, he also plans to move production of the network’s morning shows back to CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and reintroduce Alex MacCallum, CNN+’s former head of product, into the fold as part of Thompson’s deliberate move into digital, according to The Wrap.

In MacCallum’s new role of executive vice president of digital products and services, she will assist Thompson in his growth strategy, devising cutting-edge concepts to attract digital audiences.

Megyn Kelly, Piers Morgan and especially Tucker Carlson are pulling down numbers through their digital presence that make current-day CNN look like novices. For example, “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” seen on YouTube, has 2.37 million subscribers. The former CNN anchor’s small operation is outpacing Morgan’s old employer, the onetime behemoth CNN. Thompson no doubt sees this and wants to model it.

Kelly recently signed a multi-year deal with SiriusXM and has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers. This reality will inevitably be at the center of future conversations between Thompson and all his anchors, especially Cooper and Tapper, whose contracts don’t conclude until well beyond the 2024 election.

As Thompson arose from publicly funded BBC, he isn’t used to paying such gargantuan salaries. And annual base salaries at The New York Times ranged only from $70,000 to $306,000 from late 2019 through mid 2021 — toward the end of his tenure there, according to Business Insider.

As cable viewing continues to drop, resulting in advertising revenue doing the same, CNN has no alternative but to move in the digital direction. And although salaries are definitely an issue, personality is equally so.

CNN doesn’t have one. They’ve become the dull brother to Trump-hating MSNBC and Trump-loving Fox News. Love them or hate them, both networks have claimed their territory by being highly vocal and allegiant to their side of the aisle. They understand their demographics and feed to them brilliantly. It’s the same with the independent standouts noted above.

CNN doesn’t. Thompson needs to figure this out as he is chopping off limbs and talent.

To that same end, CNN also doesn’t have a superstar among them to rebuild its network and brand upon. MSNBC has Rachel Maddow and Fox News has Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and plenty of others. CNN has no one. As I said, it’s the dull left-behind.

It needs new blood, layered between the old guard if they truly plan to revolutionize successfully. That new blood will come cheap, normalizing salaries down. CNN’s biggest names are in trouble.

In the words of one CNN staffer to The Wrap, “We only know as much as Mark puts out in his memos. We are all still waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Truth be told, it already did. It did the day CNN chose to place its viewers behind a self-serving agenda. Thompson is simply turning the ship one small increment at a time.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.