In a new record for the fastest death ever by a top-tier streaming service, Warner Brothers Discovery announced earlier this week that CNN+ would be discontinued, just over a month after its launch. The service, which the cable news network has hired top talent and reportedly spent $300 million on, launched on March 27 and will stop broadcasting on April 30.
According to Axios, CNN+ signed up 150,000 subscribers, well below targets of millions. Even Quibi, the doomed abbreviated streaming service that was dead when it arrived in 2020, lasted several months longer than CNN+.
“In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and a comprehensive service that delivers a better experience and more value than standalone offerings, and, for the company, a more sustainable business model to drive our future investments in great journalism and storytelling,” Discovery streaming boss JB Perrette said in a statement. “We have some very exciting opportunities ahead in the streaming space and CNN, one of the biggest reputational in the world, will play an important role in it.”
It’s likely that many CNN+ shows will end up on HBO Max instead, or possibly the standard CNN channel.
The service failure was 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 expect most from CNN. Additionally, the timing of the launch coincided with the closing of the sale of AT&T’s former parent company WarnerMedia to Discovery. And former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who had championed CNN+, was abruptly fired from the company in February.
Another analysis, by Protocol, looked at what the streaming service’s quick death means for the future of cable and CNN’s place in it.
“CNN+’s shutdown leaves cable without an exit ramp. CNN+ was an ambitious effort to prepare one of cable television’s crown jewels for a post-cable future. By shutting down the service so soon, Warner Bros. Discovery darkens that future for everyone,” the site said. In a world where cable viewership is declining so rapidly, it’s bad for CNN’s business.
“CNN is a cable brand in a cord-cutting world. Warner Bros. Discovery wants to double down on what works and get rid of expensive experiments. But in doing so, he ignores that the world around him is changing.
CNN+, clearly, was CNN’s way forward. But now that it didn’t work, they’re going to have to find another model.
Stephen Silver, technology editor for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who also contributes to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and connect today. 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.