In the end, CNN+ lasted less than a month.
In a remarkable turnaround for one of the world’s leading television news outlets, Warner Bros. Discovery has decided to shut down CNN+, the popular streaming service that had been touted as CNN’s bid for a bold digital future.
CNN+ will cease operations on April 30, the company announced Thursday.
“While today’s decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for CNN’s long-term success,” wrote Chris Licht, CNN’s new president, in a memo. “It allows us to refocus resources on the core products that drive our singular purpose: to further enhance CNN’s journalism and its reputation as a global news leader.”
The shutdown is a stunning and ignominious end to an operation in which CNN had sunk tens of millions of dollars, from an aggressive national marketing campaign to hiring hundreds of new employees to recruiting major stars of the high-priced media outlets, including former “Fox News Sunday Anchor” Chris Wallace and former NPR co-host Audie Cornish.
Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and key architect of its streaming strategy, will also step down.
CNN+ key players were made aware of the decision just hours before Mr. Licht announced the news at a midday town hall, and many rank-and-file employees learned of the platform’s end via reports on social networks.
Understanding the turmoil at CNN
But the seeds behind his disappearance were planted weeks ago.
CNN developed the platform under the auspices of its former parent company, WarnerMedia – owner of prestige television powerhouse HBO and film studio Warner Bros. — before its merger with Discovery, home to reality TV hits like “90 Day Fiancé” and the DIY gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Discovery’s management team, including its chief executive, David Zaslav, has long been skeptical of the huge investment in CNN+ and the network’s broader strategy with the service. CNN+ debuted just days before the merger was completed last month, to the frustration of some Discovery executives.
For the newly hired team at CNN+, it didn’t help that the service’s biggest champion, former CNN President Jeff Zucker, was forced to resign under pressure in February after admitting an undisclosed romantic relationship. with a close colleague.
Mr. Licht and JB Perrette, head of global streaming at Warner Bros. Discovery, have held several meetings over the past few weeks to figure out what to do with the service.
In his Thursday afternoon meeting with CNN staff, Mr. Licht compared CNN’s efforts to launch CNN+ to a builder building a house without being allowed to speak to the intended owner, according to a recording reviewed by the New York. Times.
“Then the new owner came in and said, ‘What a beautiful house! But I need an apartment,'” Mr Licht said, according to the recording. you’ve built. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of this team, and I’m disgusted by what it means to you.
At the same meeting, Mr. Perrette cited tweets that called the service “CNN Minus” because the digital equipment did not include content from the CNN cable network “which is the global calling card of this new organization.” , did he declare. (To avoid violating CNN’s agreements with cable companies, CNN+ did not include live programming shown on its cable network.)
Mr Perrette also referred to Discovery’s ‘painful’ history of launching similar smaller streaming services – focusing on cars, food and golf – and said they were expensive to market and had limited audiences. .
“We failed at almost every turn in launching these products,” he said, according to the recording of the meeting.
Discovery executives believed CNN+ got off to a slow start: At any one time, fewer than 10,000 people were using the service, according to a person familiar with the numbers who was not authorized to speak publicly. Still, two people inside CNN said the service has about 150,000 paying subscribers and is on track to meet the network’s first-year goals.
CNN had planned to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, according to two people familiar with the matter, budgeting for 500 additional staff, including producers, engineers and programmers, and leasing an additional floor of its offices in Midtown Manhattan to accommodate them.
Warner Bros. Discovery has approximately $55 billion in debt, which executives are now under pressure to repay. The company also said it would find $3 billion in savings, which will lead to belt-tightening in some divisions.
In February, as CNN prepared to launch the streaming service, the network was torn by the departure of Mr. Zucker, its longtime president and the service’s most prominent supporter on the network.
Still, the network forged ahead. In February, speaking to a group of presenters and executives stunned by Mr. Zucker’s departure, Mr. Kilar said the streaming service was an integral part of CNN’s future. And in March, as the merger with Discovery loomed, CNN hosted a launch party for the new service at Peak, an elegant restaurant and bar at 30 Hudson Yards not far from the network’s New York offices. During the evening, CNN announced that Ted Turner, the talkative founder of CNN, was the first subscriber to the service.