Initially, the stunning part of Chris Wallace’s announcement Sunday that he was leaving Fox News for CNN was the Fox News part. At 74 year old and an 18-year veteran at the network, Wallace seemed like a Fox News lifer.
Wallace praised his Fox News bosses on his way out the door, saying all the classy things you’re supposed to say, but you can’t help but think Wallace had enough of what Fox News has become. Which is largely a right-wing propaganda machine that has handed over the reins of the network to prime-time pundit Tucker Carlson.
The New York Times Michael M. Grynbaum wrote, “The network’s biggest star is Mr. Carlson, who is the top-rated host not just on Fox News but in all of cable news, and who enjoys strong support from management.”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple went further, writing, “Every day, in other words, Fox News takes another step toward its destiny as The Tucker Carlson Channel. And in that future, there’s no room for journalists.”
So there’s that part of the story — Wallace leaving Fox News.
But just as interesting is where Wallace is heading: CNN+, which is CNN’s streaming news service that will launch early next year.
Wallace joins another high-profile journalist in former NBC News and MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt. There were rumors that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was a target when she was negotiating a new deal at MSNBC, and that Brian Williams could be joining CNN+ now that he has left NBC News. Again, that’s just a rumor.
But this is a fact: CNN president Jeff Zucker is all-in on CNN+. As my colleague Al Tompkins wrote in August, CNN+ was/is hiring 200 journalists. The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin wrote, “Wallace’s move to CNN+ is one of the biggest signs yet that CNN is investing heavily in its pivot to direct-to-consumer streaming.”
The big question is: Are people going to pay for a streaming news service?
It’s true that more and more folks are cutting cable, and CNN is the last major TV news outlet to get in the streaming game. It had to eventually, and sooner rather than later makes sense.
But while people will pay for things such as Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ to watch movies and specific shows such as “Squid Game,” “The Morning Show” and the Beatles documentary and what have you, are they going to sign up for streaming news, even if there is some original programming?
It should be noted that back in the summer, Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein wrote that CNN+ could be bundled with HBO Max and Discovery+.
I have my doubts about audiences paying for streaming news, but it’s not like CNN is going to invest this kind of money without doing serious research and understanding the future of TV. And it’s not like CNN is the only network turning to streaming.
As Axios’ Sara Fischer writes, “NBC News has already hired the majority of the 200+ new jobs it announced over the summer for its new streaming service and digital team, a top executive confirmed to Axios last month. One of its linear TV anchors, Joshua Johnson, moved full-time to host a primetime streaming show for NBC News Now. Fox News launched a new weather-focused streaming service in October. A Fox executive said last week the company is prepared to migrate Fox News to a streaming platform when the time is right. CBS News changed the name of its streaming service recently from CBSN to ‘CBS News’ to represent a new streamlined vision for streaming.”
It will be a while before we see if all this pays off for the networks, and whether big hires such as Hunt and Wallace really can bring in viewers. And audiences are not completely abandoning cable just yet, mostly because of one reason. As Fischer smartly writes, “TV networks won’t stop seriously investing in linear news programs until sports move out of the cable bundle, and that won’t be for another few years.”
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.