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CNN Launches E-Commerce Unit, Plans Digital News Subscriptions in 2018

CNN is looking to wring more dollars from the digital domain. The cable news network has launched an editorially curated online-shopping guide — giving it a cut of the sales of products it recommends — and is eyeing the rollout of digital-news subscription products next year.

On Thursday, CNN launched its first e-commerce initiative: CNN Underscored (cnn.com/underscored), a shopping guide that recommends and lets visitors purchase products and services in fashion, tech, health and travel. According to the Turner-owned network, CNN Underscored has been established as an entirely separate editorial entity from its newsgathering operations.

In addition, CNN around mid-2018 plans to launch digital news subscription services, including a general news service and more specialized tiers built around its CNN Money and CNN Politics brands, a rep confirmed.

“We’ll be experimenting with a few models next year,” a CNN spokesman said, emphasizing that CNN will not be “paywalling or charging for content we offer for free now.” The cabler has not determined pricing for the subscription plans at this point.

The cable news network also is looking at introducing international subscription plans for CNNgo, its online-video service whose full content is available only to authenticated U.S. pay-TV subscribers. News of CNN’s digital-subscription strategy was reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal.

With CNN Underscored, the cabler is featuring products that have been “vetted, tested and recommended” by a dedicated team of writers. CNN receives a portion of the revenue whenever someone makes a purchase after clicking through from one of the reviews or pages on Underscored.

Initial products featured on CNN Underscored include the $24.99 Vremi Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Square Grill Pan sold via Amazon.com (listed in a post titled “Cooking essentials you should consider investing in before you turn 30”) and Best Buy’s $99.99 Insignia Mobile Photography Kit (in the article “Accessories that will make your smartphone’s camera more functional”).

CNN Underscored is run by CNN Digital’s business-development team, under the purview of Andrew Morse, EVP of editorial for CNN U.S. and GM of CNN Digital Worldwide.

According to CNN, Underscored “follows all FTC guidelines for proper labeling and disclaimer language,” which also spells out that CNN earns a percentage of the revenue from any consumer purchases via the CNN Underscored recommendations. The CNN Digital group also has worked to present visual cues to distinguish CNN Underscored’s e-commerce promos from its news content. That includes different page designs and a new CNN Underscored logo, as well as a disclaimer at the top of the Underscored homepage.

Separately, CNN later this month will relaunch the online home for its CNN Store, which sells CNN-branded attire and gear as well as non-branded education and technology products.

The new initiatives by CNN are aimed at driving the cable network’s digital revenue to $1 billion by 2022, up from about $370 million this year, per the Wall Street Journal report.

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