Good morning. It’s a busy week here in St. Petersburg, Florida, with companywide meetings at the Poynter Institute. So today, I offer up just an abbreviated version of The Poynter Report. But I had to pass along at least a few words about the stunning demise of CNN+.
CNN hyped its streaming service for months, making a big deal out of every splashy hire, including the likes of longtime Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, NPR veteran Audie Cornish and NBC News’ Kasie Hunt.
But just three weeks after its launch, CNN announced it is shutting the streaming service down.
Even those who predicted CNN+’s uphill climb would gain a foothold among viewers are shocked that CNN has pulled the plug this quickly. April 30 will be its final day.
Chris Licht, CNN’s incoming boss, told staff, “While today’s decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for the long-term success of CNN.”
Subscription numbers indicated CNN+ was in trouble almost from the start. Axios’ Sara Fischer recently reported the streaming service had roughly 150,000 subscribers, a disheartening number considering the resources — believed to be $300 million — and hype that the network put into it.
What in the world happened?
For starters, I was never convinced — and wrote so many times — that people would be willing to pay for a news channel even if some of that news is original programming.
But of course, there’s more to it than that. CNN+ was the brainchild of Jeff Zucker, who is now the former CNN boss. Zucker resigned under pressure in early February after, among other things, failing to disclose a consensual relationship with one of his lieutenants. Yet even after Zucker was gone, CNN seemingly rushed its plans to make sure the CNN+ launched before parent company, WarnerMedia, was merged with Discovery, which is now in charge of the network.
It’s obvious now that David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery, was not a fan. A little more than a week after taking over, Zaslav had seen enough, while the rest of us had barely seen anything at all.
According to a tape obtained by The New York Times, Licht told staff, “It’s not your fault that you had the rug pulled out from underneath you.” Licht compared CNN+ to a house that had been constructed with no input from the incoming owner. In this analogy, that new owner would be Discovery.
Licht said, “Then the new owner came in and said: ‘What a beautiful house! But I need an apartment.’ And that doesn’t take anything away from this beautiful house you built. I am proud of it, and I am proud of this team, and I am gutted by what this means for you.”
So what does it mean, exactly?
The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr and Paul Farhi wrote, “CNN Plus hired about 700 people for its launch. A person at the network said that 350 people will be affected by layoffs, though the company expects many of those employees to find new roles at the company, absorbed back into CNN or into open jobs at Discovery-owned networks such as the HBO Max streaming service.”
The shocking announcement came just two days after Netflix announced it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 and expects to lose 2 million in the second quarter — sending stock prices plummeting 35% and raising new concerns about streaming.
In a statement, Discovery streaming boss J.B. Perrette said, “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. 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.”
Why didn’t CNN+ offer a free trial subscription for viewers so they could get a taste of what they were paying for? Why not wait until Discovery took over to plan out a solid launch instead of rushing it? Why not give it another few weeks?
All questions that CNN staffers and others are asking.
I’ll have much more in the coming days on the very short story that was CNN+, but I’ll leave you today with what one anonymous CNN staffer told The Washington Post: “We expected them to cut off a few fingers, not the entire arm.”
Have a good weekend, everyone. Talk to you on Monday.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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