CNN has become the latest TV network to enter the increasingly crowded streaming marketplace. CNN+ (yes, another “plus” platform) won’t launch until early 2022, but Jeff Zucker, Chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and President of CNN Worldwide claims it will be complementary to the main cable/satellite news network and will be a “product that grows the reach and scope of the CNN brand in a way that no one else is doing.” The platform will feature 8-12 hours of daily programming, including new, original series and films along with content that blurs the lines between news and entertainment.
According to Variety, executives are still determining how much CNN+ will cost subscribers, but they confirmed that there would be no ad-supported option. CNN Worldwide’s Chief Digital Officer, Andrew Morse, noted that the streaming venture would be the single biggest launch since CNN first aired back in 1980, calling the arrival of CNN+ “high stakes.”
Streaming has been both a boon and a challenge for news-related networks for many years. Success for news delivery is closely tied with quickly reporting on current events, and streaming has allowed readers to get instant updates at any time through their connected devices. Yet, with a superabundance of free news outlets, and consumers breaking and covering news items themselves through social media, many question consumers’ willingness to pay for a monthly subscription, particularly with so many other streaming options competing for a share of consumers’ video spending. However, given the pending completion of the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger next year, it’s not hard to imagine some creative bundling that puts CNN+ together with HBO Max or others, similar to how Disney+ has been packaged with ESPN+ and Hulu. Executives aren’t commenting on those plans yet.
CNN’s ratings dropped 68% in the most recent quarter, and it would seem that the network is taking the streaming plunge not just because it’s trendy, but it’s become necessary to grow the business. Interpret’s VideoWatch™ shows that cable and satellite TV viewership has been declining in the US. The drop was likely accelerated by the pandemic, as more consumers sought streaming entertainment options while staying indoors. Year-over-year, weekly hours spent watching cable/satellite TV dropped about 20%, and the decline among CNN viewers was steeper as they reduced their weekly hours by three, or about 28% compared to 2020.
If CNN succeeds in its streaming push, it will open the doors to a broader consumer base and new advertising opportunities. The company is banking on it and expects to hire 450 staff to support the endeavor in the next 6-9 months. But the question remains: Can a new streaming service really be called Cable News Network?