On March 28, on the 101st floor of the Manhattan skyscraper that houses CNN, the major American cable news network, the Show Party of CNN+, a subscription-based broadcast platform dedicated to news coverage, took place. Not a month passed until the new company that owns it – born in early April, following a merger – announced that CNN+ would permanently close on April 30, and that it would compensate all people who had signed up for its first and only month of activity. CNN+ employees have been encouraged to apply for other positions within the company, but a good half (about 350 people) are expected to lose their jobs. $300 million has been invested in the project.
CNN+ has been called CNN’s most significant achievement since Ted Turner launched the network in June 1980. To understand how it went bankrupt so quickly, you have to look back at what happened last year at WarnerMedia, the company that CNN made. , and understand a few things about the crowded and uncertain US infotainment market.
When it was born forty years ago, CNN was the first television station to offer an entire network of channels dedicated solely to news and is still among the most followed in the United States today. It can be seen for a fee as part of the Pay TV package offer. CNN+ was supposed to be CNN’s attempt to enter the subscription streaming market (what Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ are doing) and win back many viewers who have physiologically abandoned television in recent years. This project was strongly supported by former CNN President Jeff Zucker and was publicly revealed in July 2021.
It wouldn’t be a service for those who wanted to watch the real CNN, which would have stayed the same: it would have to be something else, not taking viewers away from TV, but bringing in new revenue, with great insights into the news and some well-known names. That’s why they hired, among other things, a well-known leader Fox News Chris Wallace, famous CNN reporter Cassie Hunt and actress Eva Longoria, who was supposed to do a travel show from Mexico.
As someone pointed out at the time, the reason why CNN+ wanted it was obvious, but why viewers wanted it was something else. In fact, CNN+ was only a platform for news and insights, but without the possibility to offer live programming (the most interesting to the audience that follows the news), or its most famous programme. on demand, as this would violate the exclusive contract with the pay-TV suppliers. The cost of a CNN+ subscription is set at $6 per month or $60 per year.
Added to the overall weakness of the initial project is the fact that between the summer of 2021, when the project was announced, and the news of its closure a few days before, a bit of all color happened.
First of all, on April 8, WarnerMedia — which had controlled CNN and other broadcasters like HBO — merged with Discovery Channel TV company Discovery, Inc. , affiliated with the Discovery Channel. The new company is called Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. It is run by former Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
Jason Keeler, who has been WarnerMedia’s CEO since May 2020 and a key supporter of the CNN+ project, resigned a few days before the merger after announcing early on that he did not agree.
Before the merger, WarnerMedia was under the control of the phone company AT&T, which in June 2021 agreed to invest $1 billion for the first four years of the CNN + project, although it had already spoken in favor of merging with Discovery and already having decided de facto that in this way it would exit from Entertainment and information market.
The other big promoter of CNN+ was Jeff Zucker – who among other things had been a close friend of Zaslav for years – who, however, unexpectedly resigned as president CNN On February 2. The stated reason was the secret relationship with the director of the company, but the hypothesis of many is that in fact he was involved (with her) in the “Bishop” system devised by the presenter and his friend Chris Cuomo. Kumo was the lead conductor of the band CNN He was suspended and then fired by Zucker in December, for using his position at CNN to help his brother Andrew, the former governor of New York, prepare his defense against some allegations of sexual harassment. After Zucker, CEO Alison Goulst also resigned, leading to the conclusion that she was the associate with whom Zucker had an affair.
In short, near the April 8 merger, without Zucker, Keeler and with AT&T willing to step down, people who believed in the CNN+ project from the start, Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer, remained.
In the weeks before the merger, Morse repeatedly asked those who were working on the CNN+ project to preview Discovery executives for their involvement in the project, but this never happened (prior to the merger, companies are not required to share their internal affairs). Meanwhile, in mid-March, two weeks before CNN+ went live and three weeks before the merger, Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels gave a public speech in which he said a giant streaming platform would be born from the merger. Max, the HBO streaming platform once operated by WarnerMedia. However, he did not mention CNN+, which means that it was not among the main projects of the new company.
Discovery’s management was skeptical of CNN+ from the start, mostly because it was a single-release platform, and the company had already made several attempts to do so, all of which went wrong. Zaslav’s goal after the merger was the exact opposite of CNN: to create the most diverse offering of streaming services together, and more; He wanted to return CNN to a more fact-oriented type of news and journalism.
Indeed, for several years now, CNN is no longer considered the “separate” press network, as it has for so long, but one of those that has become the most vitally partisan especially during the Trump administration, against trump card. Zucker favored the strong and passionate personalization of the hosts and reporters, and considered this title more appropriate for the audience’s times and tastes. This approach initially proved successful, but in recent months CNN has been punished more than other news organizations by waning interest in politics after Joe Biden’s election.
Despite this, until the beginning of February, the CNN+ project was not questioned because it strongly supported Zucker, who was friends with Zaslav. When Zucker departed, rather than delaying the launch of the platform until after the merger, it made sense to tackle such a massive project and without the person who implemented it from the start, Keelar – who was still in charge of WarnerMedia, but knew he was leaving soon – he insisted CNN+ launch date confirmed. According to some, Kilar considered CNN+ his legacy as president of WarnerMedia.
Therefore, Discovery and WarnerMedia arrived at the time of the merger with two very different intent; And with the resignations of Zucker and Kellar, Discovery’s intentions prevailed.
The first report on CNN+ performance reached Zaslav on April 11, two weeks after subscriptions to the platform opened and just three days after the merger: data showed the streaming platform had only 10,000 viewers per day and platform downloads were declining despite a massive marketing campaign Prepared for launch. The next day, there were some articles reporting these numbers talking about platform failures: inside CNN the data was suspected to have been released by the Discovery group, to pressure CNN+ in their favour.
CNN+ project managers told new company executives just born out of the merger that they had reached 150,000 subscribers: a number they believe is in line with the goal set for the first year (2 million). However, this result was deemed insufficient and marketing investments planned in the early weeks of CNN+ were put on hold. For example, when it was posted online, Disney+ achieved 1 million subscribers in the first day alone.
Three days later, Zaslav met with his direct reports, who noted that the results of the first few weeks of CNN+ did not justify the enormous costs. Therefore it was proposed to close the platform. Zaslav agreed.
The news was relayed to CNN executives and CNN+ staff on Thursday, April 21, by Chris Licht, CNN’s new CEO (instead of Zucker), who has been out of CNN until pre-mission and is considered an ally of Zaslav. His mission was not supposed to start before May, but a few days ago he found himself having to manage the crisis. In the letter sent to employees, Licht wrote that “This decision is in line with WBD’s broader strategy. In such a complex flowing market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in-one service that delivers a better experience and more value than many independent offerings.” On the same day Andrew announced Morse that he is leaving the company.