The Death of CNN+ and the Future of Cable Television
CNN+ was CNN’s way of moving forward to the future. But now that it hasn’t worked, they’re going to have to find another model.
In a new record for the fastest death ever by a high-profile streaming service, Warner Brothers Discovery announced earlier this week that CNN+ will be discontinued, just over a month after its launch. The service, for which the cable news network hired high-profile talent and reportedly spent $300 million, launched on March 27, and will cease streaming on April 30.
Per Axios, CNN+ signed up 150,000 subscribers, far short of goals that were in the millions. Even Quibi, the doomed short-form streaming service that was dead on arrival in 2020, lasted several months longer than CNN+.
“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,” Discovery’s streaming boss J.B. Perrette said in a 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.”
It’s likely that many CNN+ shows will end up on HBO Max instead, or possibly living on the standard CNN channel.
The failure of the service has been attributed to a few different factors. The service offered talk shows and other exclusive content but did not offer a linear version of the CNN feed, which is what most viewers want most from CNN. In addition, the timing of the launch coincided with the closing of the sale of former parent company WarnerMedia from AT&T to Discovery. And former CNN head Jeff Zucker, who had championed CNN+, was abruptly forced from the company in February.
Another analysis, by Protocol, looked at what the quick death of the streaming service means for the future of cable, and CNN’s place in it.
“Shutting down CNN+ leaves cable without an off-ramp. CNN+ was an ambitious effort to prepare one of cable TV’s crown jewels for a post-cable future. By killing the service this early, Warner Bros. Discovery is clouding that future for everyone,” the site said. In a world where the cable audience is shrinking so quickly, that is bad for CNN’s business.
“CNN is a cable brand in a world that’s cutting the cord. Warner Bros. Discovery wants to double down on what’s working and get rid of costly experiments. But by doing so, it’s ignoring that the world around it is changing.”
CNN+, clearly, was CNN’s way of moving forward to the future. But now that it hasn’t worked, they’re going to have to find another model.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.