Warner Bros. Discovery has decided to suspend external marketing for the recently launched subscription streaming-news service, according to a person familiar with the venture, making the task of luring new subscribers exponentially more difficult. CNN and Warner Bros. Discovery declined to make executives available to discuss the matter, which was previously reported by Axios.
And yet, life continues apace for the anchors and correspondents tasked with producing the programs for the new venue, which launched three weeks ago and was seen as CNN’s stab at bringing younger, cord-cutting audiences under its massive news umbrella at a time when more viewers are migrating to streaming video. None of the CNN+ shows have been canceled, according to three people familiar with the matter. A program for Audie Cornish, the celebrated NPR journalist who jumped to CNN for the launch, continues to be in production, these people said. At a recent meeting with CNN employers, Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav is said to have told anchor Kate Bolduan that he was impressed by “Five Things,” a new morning series on CNN+ that offers viewers a rapid-fire look at five big news items (and one small one).
Even so, the mood at CNN among some of the talent assigned to CNN+ is “unsettling,” said one of the people familiar with the venture. Warner Bros. Discovery has issued no edict or command to CNN regarding its streaming-video outlet, these people say, even as reports continue to surface that its executives want to pursue a different strategy. Indeed, CNN’s business is, like many parts of the former WarnerMedia empire, under review, according to two people familiar with the process, with JB Perrette, the head of the new company’s streaming operations, and Chris Licht, the new CEO of CNN, sifting through the unit’s operations. But leaks about a potential change in direction have left anchors and correspondents fretting over their roles.
There are reasons for concern. CNN lured a passel of big names in recent months, poaching Kasie Hunt from NBC News and Chris Wallace from Fox News Channel to start new CNN+ programs. In addition to Cornish, CNN struck a deal with Eva Longoria to lead a documentary series; with business professor Scott Galloway; and with commentators Jemele Hill and Cari Champion, among others. Anchors including Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Brian Stelter have all been given new shows to launch as well. In the service’s earliest days, one person says, Bolduan’s “Five Things,” Stelter’s “Reliable Sources Daily” and Wallace’s “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” appear to have gained traction with the current subscriber base.
At CNN, executives have been encouraged with early results. The service has lured around 100,000 to 150,000 subscribers in its first three weeks, a rate that would put the service on target to make its first-year goals, according to two people familiar with the venture. The company never expected to launch an outlet with the scope of Disney+ or Netflix. Instead, CNN+ was aimed at the modern news user, who could tune in for a series of live weekday programs, documentary-style programming available on demand and an increasing series of pop-up reports on breaking news items.
Warner Bros. chief Zaslav hasn’t been shy in past weeks about his desire to combine all of the new company’s streaming assets into a single property. There is impetus to do so. Wall Street is demanding to see robust increases in streaming usage from media companies and the only way to get there, seemingly, is for companies like Warner, Paramount Global and Disney to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the production of new content. Meanwhile, Discovery+, the standalone streaming outlet launched by the former Discovery in 2020 and 2021, has not been seen as a powerhouse by media buyers on Madison Avenue. Zaslav has articulated a plan that would combine Discovery+ with HBO Max. There is some hope among CNN staff that the new CNN+ shows might continue, with Warner executives eager for new content even if they aren’t dazzled by the new platform.
Executives at CNN seem sanguine about the situation. If Warner Bros. Discovery wants to shut CNN+ down, some of these people say, all the company has to do is to say it in public fashion.