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Warner Bros Discovery taps media veteran Thompson as CEO of CNN

(Reuters) - Warner Bros Discovery named Mark Thompson as CEO of CNN on Wednesday, tasking the former New York Times and BBC chief with reviving a news network beset by sagging ratings and falling profits.

Thompson succeeds Chris Licht, who stepped down in June after a rocky one year at the helm that included a divisive town hall with former Republican U.S. President Donald Trump and the shutdown of CNN+ streaming service just weeks after its launch.

With Thompson, 66, Warner Bros Discovery is turning to an executive with ample experience at the top level, unlike Licht - a former TV producer who had worked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."

During his 8-year tenure as the CEO of the Times, Thompson helped transform the Gray Lady into a beacon for newspapers in the internet age by focusing on digital subscriptions.

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The Times' share price grew nearly five-fold in the period, widely outperforming the benchmark S&P 500 index.

"Mark is a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world's most respected news organizations," Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav said in a statement.

A big focus area for Thompson is likely to be the recently announced round-the-clock news service called CNN Max, which will be available on Warner Bros Discovery's streaming platform.

CNN Max is looking to capitalize on the immediacy of breaking news and analysis, differentiating it from CNN+, which featured lifestyle programs.

The news network's ratings have been sagging, even as the company attempts to attract more Republican viewers.

Its profit fell under $1 billion in 2022 and is expected to be modestly higher this year than last, at $938.6 million, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Those estimates are for the CNN networks that operate in the United States, including CNN en Español and CNN International.

During June, CNN's audience lagged behind Fox News and MSNBC in prime time and across the total day, according to data from Nielsen.

(Reporting by Aditya Soni; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)