CNN is shutting down its streaming service CNN+ about a month after launch, a sign of the new owners’ lack of confidence in the viability of a subscription-based standalone news platform.
The decision to pull the plug on CNN+, which got off to a disappointing start, came less than two weeks after CNN’s ownership shifted from AT&T Inc. to a newly formed company called Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.,
the result of a merger of the telecom giant’s entertainment and news assets and Discovery.
CNN Chairman and Chief Executive Chris Licht, who hasn’t even officially assumed his role, addressed CNN staff at a sometimes emotional City Hall meeting Thursday, saying the decision to shut down CNN+ so soon after launch, created a uniquely bad situation, according to one participant.
Mr. Light and others of Warner Bros. Discovery pointed the finger at AT&T and its former entertainment unit WarnerMedia for launching the service on the eve of the arrival of new management.
“We have to recognize what has happened, even if it is not the result of what we have done,” said Mr. Light. CNN+ will shut down on April 30, he said in a memo earlier on Thursday.
The demise of CNN+ showcases the unique challenges of building a streaming news business that cannot include a live TV network feed or its most notable content without violating contractual obligations with pay TV providers. Rather than offering access to CNN shows like “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and “Anderson Cooper 360°,” CNN+ offered less news, such as “Jake Tapper’s Book Club” and “Parental Guidance With Anderson Cooper.”
CNN also lured major outside talent to its streaming service, including former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. With support from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, CNN’s previous regime spent $300 million developing CNN+ with plans to invest another $750 million in the coming years, people familiar with the operation said.
A look at the hosts of CNN+
- Journalists Chris Wallace and Kasie Hunt are among those who have left other outlets to join the short-lived streaming service
After its March 29 launch, CNN+ attracted fewer than 100,000 subscribers, a person familiar with the operation said, and the $5.99-a-month price was seen as prohibitive by Discovery executives who questioned the service’s viability. before launch.
Some of the content from CNN+ will be moved to other platforms at parent Warner Bros. Discovery, including CNN, told Mr. Light to employees during the meeting. The HBO Max streaming service is a potential landing place for some of that content, he said.
In a memo to staff, Mr Licht said the decision was difficult but necessary. “It’s the right choice for CNN’s long-term success,” said Mr. Light in the memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “It allows us to refocus our resources on the core products that make up our unique focus: further strengthening CNN’s journalism and its reputation as a global news leader.”
Thursday’s decision was telegraphed last week by David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, who said at a recent company-wide town hall meeting that he would prefer to have all of the sprawling entertainment and news company’s content under one platform rather than individual services for different channels.
As part of the uproar, Andrew Morse, the CNN executive who oversaw CNN+, is leaving the company. Mr Morse could not be reached for comment. Mr Licht said CNN chief executive Alex MacCallum would oversee CNN’s digital operations. Ms. MacCallum, a CNN veteran with previous positions with the New York Times and Washington Post, most recently served as general manager of CNN+ and lead product for CNN Worldwide.
Mr Licht said CNN+ employees will be paid and receive benefits for the next three months and can research potential jobs elsewhere at the company.
News of the CNN+ shutdown was previously reported by Variety.
During Thursday’s town hall, JB Perrette, the Discovery executive named CEO of the Warner Bros. Discovery streaming and interactive operations, that the company was unable to get information about CNN+ before it launched due to legal restrictions limiting their access to scheduling on the service. †
“The previous leadership continued as usual,” he said. “It makes it even worse for us to get in here.”
mr. Kilar did not respond to a request for comment. A former senior director of WarnerMedia said Discovery was knowledgeable about CNN+ and that it raised no red flags.
Because of its relationships with pay-TV distributors, CNN was limited in the amount of live news and content it could post on its CNN+ platform. Without the urgency of breaking news, the site was seen by Discovery executives as a tough sell, said a person close to the operation. Most of the content was mostly softer fare, like Mr. Wallace, where he often chatted with celebrities such as William Shatner and Joan Collins.
Rival Fox News has had more success in the direct-to-consumer streaming business. The Fox Nation service has more than a million subscribers, said a person familiar with that operation. But Fox News is also known for a very loyal audience, and the service features both entertainment and content from some of its biggest names, including Tucker Carlson. Fox News owner Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal mother News Corp. share common ownership.
Mr. Wallace was the biggest asset to CNN+, lured away by Fox News. There’s a possibility his show will migrate to CNN, people familiar with the matter said. Some CNN insiders also think Mr. Wallace could be a candidate to fill the prime-time gap left by Chris Cuomo’s departure last year. A senior director of Warner Bros. Discovery said that was unlikely.
Neither Mr Wallace nor his agent responded to requests for comment.
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