Last updated on March 25th, 2023
For those that forgot, CNN+ was meant to be a streaming service for fans of the regular CNN cable news channel. For $6 a month, subscribers were supposed to receive a variety of documentaries, investigative stories, and so on, as extra material not appearing on the regular CNN channel.
Why CNN+ failed
As I noted in my original post on the launch, CNN+ had conceptual problems from the get-go:
- CNN+ competed with existing streaming news services like CBSN, NBC News, and ABC News. All of those are built into their parent companies’ respective flagship streaming apps (Paramount+, Peacock, and Hulu respectively).
- CNN+ was yet another bill to add, an issue given “streaming fatigue” and recent streaming service price hikes.
- The CNN+ app didn’t carry CNN (the cable channel) at all, much like how ESPN+ lacks ESPN-proper.
- CNN+ was also yet another streaming service offered by Warner Bros. Discovery (the new name for WarnerMedia post-merger), on top of HBO Max, Discovery+, and Boomerang.
Uptake for CNN+ was mediocre; there were only 150,000 subscribers as of April 19. An article by Axios states Warner had high hopes for CNN Plus taking off, with the service projected to have as many as 30 million subscribers by 2030. That was overly optimistic; by comparison, Peacock has 28 million subscribers, while Paramount+ has 32.8 million.
On top of all of that, CNN+ launched just as the Warner Bros./Discovery merger took off. CNN+ was likely seen by Warner Bros. Discovery as a vestige of previous parent company AT&T’s poor management.
Many are already comparing CNN+’s short lifespan to the also-failed streaming service Quibi. Quibi ran into a bunch of problems, including the pandemic (which killed its mobile-centric appeal). Quibi launched in April 2020 (a month after the pandemic kicked into gear in the US), and shuttered the following December. Roku bought up its original shows for its own app.
Since then, Quibi has been the butt of jokes about its short lifespan; I’m guessing CNN+ is quickly going to join or displace Quibi in that category.
In general, I think CNN+ was an ill-conceived idea from the start, and it turns out I was right about its short lifespan; to quote my original CNN+ post:
Overall, I have doubts that CNN+ will be very successful. A paid extra service that’s a companion to a news channel that already requires a pricey cable subscription (or a cable replacement streaming service) to get seems a tall order. CNN+ is also competing against the services above, but with few unique elements. Finally, CNN proper has to contend with cord cutting. I wouldn’t be surprised if CNN+ becomes one of the casualties of the “streaming wars.”
Warner should’ve either included the regular version of CNN with CNN+ (not tied to a cable subscription), or made CNN/CNN+ a permanent category under HBO Max. Live programming, including news, would improve HBO Max’s value, given it’s expensive. Now that CNN+ is dead, I assume its material will permanently end up on HBO Max anyway.
As for the overall “streaming wars,” I don’t think it’s a sign streaming is doomed. But it is a sign that there’s limits to how many services the general public wants. Also, TV news isn’t something people want to pay for as a stand-alone streaming service, especially when it already comes with services like Hulu or Peacock.