My esteemed onetime partner in FOX research crime Melva Goffney Benoit passed along this eye-opener as mine attempted to fight off a full day of migraines as they struggled to open today. Like moi, she’s seen more than her share of both good and bad brand research, and we’re both experienced and nuanced enough to know where and how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hence I took note when I saw this:
From its crackdown on password sharing to its penchant for canceling shows prematurely, Netflix is not a stranger to public blowback. Beyond that, the streaming wars have left us all feeling frustrated with streamers altogether as we question what the point of it all was.
Yet, Netflix has still managed to keep its crown as evidenced by its high favorability with the youngest generation.
As the story by ADWEEK’s Rebecca Stewart unfolded:
Netflix has been crowned the “coolest” brand among 7- to 14-year-olds in a study spanning 60,000 U.K. kids conducted by family insights agency Beano Brain.
The streaming service knocked 2022 champion YouTube off the top spot, with McDonald’s, Nike and Oreo completing the top five.
And then it hit my still-foggy and pain-filled mind. Now I know what Mark Thompson will be doing in about a decade or so.
What Thompson will be doing this fall is probably of more immediate concern, particularly if you’re someone who, like both Benoit and myself both once worked for a visionary like Ted Turner. As of October 9th, he will be faced with the task of trying to restore order, luster, relevance and–yes, profit potential–to CNN. It took three of his former employees at THE NEW YORK TIMES-John Koblin, Benjamin Mullin and
CNN, one of the world’s leading news organizations, has been buffeted by a nearly endless string of crises for more than a year and a half. Ratings have plunged, profits have fallen, strategies have shifted, and two former prime-time stars were shown the door.
Mr. Thompson, 66, joins the network with far more experience running a sprawling news organization than Mr. Licht, a former morning and late-night show producer.
Mr. Thompson started at the BBC in 1979 as a trainee and ascended to director general, the broadcaster’s top position, in 2004. He ran both the editorial and business operations in that role, as he will at CNN.
He joined the Times Company as its chief executive in 2012, the top business-side job at the organization. He was among a group of executives who revitalized the company financially by greatly expanding its digital subscription business, which was still in its infancy when he started. The Times now has nearly 10 million subscribers, more than nine million of them digital-only.
Thompson, to be sure, is not a journalist per se, though he has empowered many of the world’s best to be that. His former colleagues who had such roles were quick to offer support and praise. As the NEW YORK TIMES’ troika continued:
Dean Baquet, a former executive editor of The Times, said Mr. Thompson was “the perfect hire” for CNN.
“He understands change, which is the most important quality for whoever they chose as a leader — someone who understands what things are going to have to change,” Mr. Baquet said. “Newspapers were a little bit of a learning curve for Mark just because he had never been at a newspaper. But this is his world. He’ll be very comfortable in that world.”
Lionel Barber, a former editor at The Financial Times who has known Mr. Thompson since they were students in the 1970s, said Mr. Thompson had a notable ability to withstand the kind of criticism that was frequently directed at people in top media jobs.
“He’s got a big personality, he’s totally secure in himself, but he doesn’t boast and he doesn’t show off his knowledge,” Mr. Barber said. “But if you try to take him on on something, or you disagree with him, you’ll get a full volley back.”
What Thompson seemingly did best, something he did masterfully for an even greyer lady in the BBC than the TIMES, was to take the DNA of a strong brand and extend it into new and opportunistic realms and revenue streams. As THE INSIDER’s Lucia Moses noted, he’s already been noticed for that by his new boss, our good friend Yosemite Zas:
In a staff note reviewed by Insider, Zaslav called out Thompson’s accomplishments building The New York Times into a successful online subscription business while CEO from 2012 to 2020; and at the BBC before that, developing its streaming service and expanding its web and smartphone services.
“Mark has been in the news business for more than four decades and, as many of you are aware, he has an exceptional track-record of innovation and excellence. I am confident he is exactly the leader we need to take the helm of CNN at this pivotal time,” Zaslav wrote.
Some of the secrets to Thompson’s success has little to do with breaking news, certainly the type that looms to be what could be top of mind in the months ahead. There’s only so much bandwidth and opportunity for even the most spirited for and against Trumpworld to be tapped into. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy observed, his biggest accomplishments may have lied at finding other ways to attract eyeballs and scrollers:
Thompson, whose roots are in television, had a remarkable track record at The Times, bolstering its digital business by acquiring The Wirecutter, launching NYT Cooking and making the newspaper an audio destination by launching programs such as “The Daily” podcast.
As a devoted listener whose day is often made when he hears Michael Barbaro and his colleagues start to channel the “what does this mean?” approach to what is now the #2 podcast in America, I can’t help but a little encouraged that despite the absolute train wreck that the aborted attempt to launch a digital CNN brand extension that CNN+ was, CNN Max, under Thompson’s lead, might yet have a fighting chance.
As THE WRAP’s Natalie Korach speculated this past week, there’s both opportunity and necessity that await Thompson with this endeavor:
The pressing need to get CNN into the streaming space is obvious. Competitors like Fox News have already begun building an audience on their own streaming services. And adding news to the Max platform gives Warner Bros. Discovery a significant leg up over competitors like Netflix and Disney+, which currently do not carry live news at all. “There is only one CNN and a significant number of U.S. homes have cut the cord. So if you don’t have a robust streaming solution, you can’t reach them,” Dave Morgan, CEO of cross-channel TV advertising firm Simulmedia, told TheWrap.
The CNN Max beta, which launches on Sept. 27 in the U.S. and will be included at no extra charge in all the streamer’s subscription tiers, is intended to be an extension of the programming already provided by CNN, giving Max an opportunity to feature real-time breaking news content while catering to cord-cutters.
While an official schedule hasn’t been set, CNN Max is set to include original programming specifically built for the platform, including “CNN Newsroom with Jim Sciutto” and “CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta, Rahel Solomon, Amara Walker and Fredricka Whitfield.” Sciutto will also be tasked with leading breaking news coverage in the afternoons.
I’d offer that there may even be more of a pallet for Thompson to paint with, given what worked with NYT. Content based around cooking, considering that the Food Network and its digital engagement track record is now a corporate cousin? Why not? A podcast companion to Newsroom that’s as engaging and audience-centric as THE DAILY? Long overdue. Hey, maybe even a word game as engaging as WORDLE or SPELLING BEE? Thompson competed for years against a show called COUNTDOWN, arguably the most challenging TV word game ever developed. I’m willing to bet he’s familiar with it, and I’d bet it could be formatted here for something well within Yosemite’s budget tolerance.
But that’s merely my migraine-induced creativity working overtime. Thompson’s the real brand savior here. He’s done it before, and he certainly has the chops to do it again. As the TIMES’ trio quoted his onetime colleague Barber: “This is a guy who just feels he’s got one more big job in him.”
But if I’m Ted Sarandos, or the stockholders of Netflix, I’d be taking notes, and hope he might have more than one more big job in him. Netflix may be top of mind now with tomorrow’s young adults, but we know how older folks can screw up brand perceptions once they take control. I mean, look at what some did to CNN.
For that matter, look at where the BBC sits with the same Generation Alphas that currently revere Netflix in the aforementioned Beano Brain study: The BBC experienced the largest fall, dropping 28 places from 43 to 71.
And I’ll venture to say that when Thompson was there, it was a lot higher ranked than 43.
So good luck to you, Mark Thompson. Go save CNN, if for nothing else than for it to be sold at full market value. And keep Ted’s contact info in your phone for the future.
Until next time…