CNN’s premium streaming service launches today. The service, CNN Plus, will debut with about a dozen weekly shows, more than a thousand hours of on-demand content, and a Reddit-like interactive tool to ask reporters and guests about the day’s most important news. It’s a big bet that viewers will not only want to pay for news, but also for Lake news — and that the CNN brand can beat other often freely available options.
CNN Plus isn’t just a digital library for its brother’s cable coverage. Available on Amazon Fire TV, Android phones and tablets, and Apple devices, the app launches with new shows from the likes of Audie Cornish, Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper. At its core, it’s a product for people who — god help them — need a dedicated streaming service for coverage beyond what’s already available through paid newsletters, documentary services, and CNN’s existing 24-hour non-stop channel.
“We see CNN Plus as an additive. It’s something totally new that CNN is adding to linear television for free,” said Robyn Peterson, chief technology officer and SVP at CNN, during a demo of the product. “It’s not really a second newscast.”
One of the ways CNN Plus differentiates itself is through interactivity. During some live CNN Plus segments, viewers can ask questions during and before segments through a feature called Interview Club. Those questions can then be voted on by other subscribers — a sort of Reddit for viewers who want additional context about the news.
CNN would like us to see CNN Plus as distinctive from its broadcast counterpart, but the two are very intertwined. A single CNN app gives viewers access to both CNN Plus and its pay-TV experiences, including feeds for CNN, CNN International and HLN. But the two programming components need to be unlocked separately. CNN Plus costs $6 a month, while you need a cable provider to log in to access the pay TV shows. For the first month, CNN Plus allows users to lock in a discounted rate of $3 per month as long as they remain subscribed.
The challenge is that CNN is up against some mainstream streaming services, such as Peacock or Paramount Plus, that offer news content alongside popular sitcoms, dramas, and movies. Plus, plenty of free-to-stream services currently also have 24-hour news coverage, including the Roku Channel, YouTube, Pluto, and Plex.
CNN Plus’s challenge won’t just launch in a crowded streaming space. The biggest hurdle will be convincing subscribers that it’s worth paying for a service that does news and little else.