CNN+ To Shut Down, Ending Network’s Expensive Gambit On Subscription Streaming
UPDATED: CNN+, the news network’s expensive venture into subscription streaming, will shut down at the end of the month.
The heavily promoted service launched just weeks ago, on March 29, but almost immediately there were reports of lower-than-expected subscription numbers and plans for cutbacks under new CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery. Its demise makes it perhaps the shortest lived of all subscription streaming ventures, a lesser lifespan than Quibi, the platform that ran for about seven months in 2020.
Chris Licht, the new chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, said that they have decided to “focus our investment on CNN’s core news-gathering operations and in further building CNN Digital. This is not a decision about quality; we appreciate all of the work, ambition and creativity that went into building CNN+, an organization with terrific talent and compelling programming. But our customers and CNN will be best served with a simpler streaming choice.”
Licht indicated that they wanted to make CNN’s news offerings a part of a broader streaming strategy along with sports, entertainment and non-fiction programming. There have been suggestions that some of the CNN+ programming would be part of that.
Andrew Morse, who had led CNN+ and was chief digital officer for the network, will leave the company. Alex MacCallum, CNN Worldwide, Head of Product/General Manager CNN+, will lead CNN Digital.
About 500 employees worked on the streaming service, although many of them had dual roles at CNN and CNN+. Licht said that all CNN+ employees would be paid and receive benefits for the next 90 days, and held the possibility that they would get work elsewhere in the company, CNN reported. Those who don’t will get a minimum of six months of severance.
All of the broadcast news divisions and news networks have launched streaming offerings, but none gained quite the attention that CNN+ did, conceived during the era of former CNN President Jeff Zucker. He lured away talent from other networks, including Kasie Hunt from NBC News and Chris Wallace from Fox News, and development costs reportedly approached $100 million, with much more spent on things such as marketing and technical applications.
The night of the launch, CNN threw a party at the stylish Peak Restaurant & Bar in NYC’s Hudson Yards, sipping cocktails, munching mini-risotto balls and enjoying the insane view from the 101st floor. Ethan Hawke and Carl Bernstein mingled with talent like the newly arrived Chris Wallace.
But the ambitious move into streaming was met with a lot of doubts, particularly given that it was being sold as a subscription offering. By the time it launched, CNN was offering a 50% discount to early subscribers on its monthly fee of $5.99. While some of its programming gained notice — including some of Wallace’s in-depth sitdown interviews — there were reports that early subscription numbers were dismal. Moreover, the service was a kind of news and lifestyle hybrid but not, at least in its initial days, a replacement for the round-the-clock breaking news coverage on regular CNN. Through the day, there were gaps in programming in the CNN+ live feed.
The network went forward with the streaming service even after Zucker’s abrupt exit. There also was the uncertainty of new CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming strategy, as well as the ultimate plans of Licht, who will officially start on May 1.
In the announcement of the shutdown, J.B. Perrette, the CEO and president of global streaming and interactive entertainment at Warner Bros. Discovery, seemed to pinpoint one of the faults of CNN+: That it was a subscription offering at a time when consumers are already inundated with streaming services.
“In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings, and, for the company, a more sustainable business model to drive our future investments in great journalism and storytelling,” he said in statement. We have very exciting opportunities ahead in the streaming space and CNN, one of the world’s premier reputational assets, will play an important role there.’’
According to CNN, Perrette told employees at a town hall on Thursday that “some of this was avoidable,” suggesting that the launch could have been delayed until after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger was completed.
CNN’s main cable news rivals had already ventured into streaming by the time it launched. Fox Nation, which launched in 2018, also is a subscription offering priced at $5.99, but relies on a more fervent audience on the right with its mix of lifestyle and opinion programming. Moreover, last year, Fox Nation added next day feeds of some of its most popular primetime programming, along with a new show hosted by Tucker Carlson. MSNBC has The Choice from MSNBC, with plans to fold that into an offering on Peacock’s premium tier, with on-demand offerings of some of its primetime programming.
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