Following multiple reports that the new CNN+ subscription streaming service was struggling to attract viewers, CNN and Warner Bros. Discovery today announced that CNN+ will cease operations effective April 30 -- just a month after its launch. The company said customers will be able to receive prorated refunds of their subscription fees as a result of its closure.
Alongside the news, the service's chief exec Andrew Morse, EVP and chief digital officer of CNN Worldwide and head of CNN+, is also leaving the company after a transition period.
This could be one of the fastest shutdowns in streaming we've ever seen. And we saw what happened to Quibi.
"As we become Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN will be strongest as part of WBD’s streaming strategy which envisions news as an important part of a compelling broader offering along with sports, entertainment and nonfiction content," said Chris Licht, chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, in a statement about the service's closure.
“We have therefore made the decision to cease operations of CNN+ and focus our investment on CNN’s core news-gathering operations and in further building CNN Digital. This is not a decision about quality; we appreciate all of the work, ambition and creativity that went into building CNN+, an organization with terrific talent and compelling programming. But our customers and CNN will be best served with a simpler streaming choice," Licht added.
CNN+ was already showing poor adoption after its March 29 debut, reports said.
According to CNBC's sources, fewer than 10,000 people were using the service on a daily basis after its first two weeks.
The company's risky bet was that, in today's competitive streaming landscape, people would pay a subscription for live and on-demand news programming and other content -- including a thousand plus hours of on-demand shows, films and CNN+ originals. It had also snagged big names in news including Kasie Hunt from NBC News and Chris Wallace from Fox News to aid the effort. CNN's talent was featured as well, including Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Brian Stelter, Christiane Amanpour, Audie Cornish, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Sara Sidner, Kate Bolduan, Poppy Harlow and others.
But the service was charging $5.99 per month or $59.99 annually -- prices may have seemed costly for a slate of programming that too closely resembles what's available today on cable TV.
TechCrunch reported on CNN+'s rough start, citing third-party analytics and other media reports. But the company then told us it was "very happy with the launch" and that its first week's performance was "well ahead of expectations." That begs a question about whether the company blurred the line between the typical PR-hyping of a new property and perhaps being a bit dishonest about actual performance.
CNN+ rolled out only weeks ahead of the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger under the direction of ex-WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who has since left the company; the new Warner Bros. Discovery is now led by David Zaslav.
Following Morse's departure, the head of Product/General Manager CNN+, Alex MacCallum, will head up CNN Digital and will work to determine the next steps. Likely, the company just didn't see the value in running a separate subscription product with its stated plans to merge HBO Max and Discovery+ into one service.
But while CNN+ may be no more, CNN itself will still stream.
J.B. Perrette, CEO and president of Global Streaming and interactive entertainment at Warner Bros. Discovery, said the CNN brand and its content will be key to the company’s direct-to-consumer service, a press release said.
"Consumers are the center of our strategy,’’ 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."