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March 29, 2022, 1:50 p.m.

With cable subscribers on the decline, CNN makes a big bet on streaming with CNN+

CNN has called its new subscription-based service “the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980.”

At a recent media-themed conference, a panelist from CNN+ started by asking the room — mostly Harvard Business School students — how many paid for cable. Only a few hands went into the air. That, she said, was why CNN was going big with its new streaming service.

CNN+ officially launched on Tuesday, and the cable company has billed it as “the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980.” Much of the news coverage around the release has mentioned that CNN’s $120 million investment comes as the number of cable subscribers is on the wane, and that the median cable news viewer is in their mid- to late-sixties.

The new subscription-based streaming service — which will cost $6/month or $60/year, though there’s a 50% lifetime discount for early sign-ups — hopes to attract not just “CNN superfans” but a cord-cutting younger audience as well.

The original programming is anchored by eight live shows per day. Freed from commercial breaks and the rigid half-hour slots of television news, the first of these — “5 Things with Kate Bolduan,” taped live at 7 a.m. — recapped five stories in just under 11 minutes. On Tuesday, the “things” were the war in Ukraine, Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, updates from the FDA and CDC on the coronavirus pandemic, a major crash in Pennsylvania caused by a snow squall, and Walmart’s decision to stop selling cigarettes in some of its stores. (There was also a “bonus” sixth thing, about firefighters rescuing a dog from a flooded river.)

In addition to the daily live shows, CNN+ will host an “Interview Club” (where anchors promise to answer audience questions in real time), original series (like a “real-life Succession” series about the Murdochs), food and travel content (including a show from cookbook author and former New York Times writer Alison Roman), and weekly offerings like an interview show with Audie Cornish (formerly of NPR) and a book club with CNN anchor Jake Tapper.

Rebecca Kutler, head of programming for CNN+, told Adweek she “100%” expected to see CNN+ evolve its streaming offerings as it learns what subscribers are (and aren’t) interested in. “If we are doing our jobs well, the content you see on CNN+ on Tuesday will look very different in a year — and will look different again two years and three years from now,” she said.

On mobile, CNN+ won’t live as a standalone app, but instead appear as a tab within a single CNN app that’ll also allow those with a TV service provider login to stream CNN U.S. and CNN International channels. (The current CNNgo app “will sunset for users.”)

Interestingly, CJR’s Jon Allsop noticed that CNN chief digital officer Andrew Morse has not been comparing the new streaming product to Fox Nation or ad-supported offerings from the likes of NBC and CBS. Instead:

Morse has repeatedly compared CNN+ not to other streaming services but to the Times, which has in recent years transitioned itself from being an old-school newspaper company to a multi-pronged digital behemoth that has successfully added online subscribers — not just for its core news business but also for cooking, games, and more — via various subscription combinations. Executives see CNN as being able to achieve something similar with video to that which the Times has done with text.

You can read more about the CNN+ launch from Allsop here.

POSTED     March 29, 2022, 1:50 p.m.
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