CNN plans to reduce budgets and star salaries, despite Mark Thompson's resistance

In an effort to fund its digital-first transformation, CNN CEO Mark Thompson is reportedly planning to cut anchor salaries, which currently exceed $50 million. Thompson, who previously led the BBC and The New York Times, aims to reshape CNN into a U.S. version of the BBC. The network's top earners include Anderson Cooper, who makes an estimated $20 million per year, and Wolf Blitzer, who earns about $15 million annually. Thompson has expressed his desire to unleash a "revolution" at CNN, which may involve reducing the network's talent roster.

Thompson's plan to trim production costs has raised concerns among media experts and former CNN executives, who believe that some of the large anchor salaries may be targeted. However, contracts for high-profile anchors like Cooper and Jake Tapper are not set to expire until after the 2025 or 2026 presidential election.

CNN's current ratings struggle, trailing behind Fox and MSNBC, has put pressure on Thompson to replicate his success in building digital models at the BBC and The New York Times. The network's recent decision to remove hosts Poppy Harlow and Phil Mattingly from "This Morning" and shift its morning programming from New York to Atlanta is expected to result in significant cost savings.

Thompson's intention to develop the news anchors of the future aligns with the changing media landscape, where digital and social media stars are gaining prominence. Megyn Kelly and Piers Morgan, both formerly of traditional TV networks, have found success building online audiences through YouTube. CNN's focus on digital strategies reflects the necessary shift away from linear television, as ratings continue to decline.

While Thompson's digital-first strategy may hold promise, there are concerns about how long CNN can maintain a dual model of digital and linear television. The network's star anchor salaries may be difficult to justify without evidence of their ability to generate digital value. As Thompson pushes for cost reductions and digital innovation, the future of CNN and its talent roster remains uncertain.


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