In the end, CNN+ lasted less than a month.
In a remarkable turnaround for one of the world’s leading television news outlets, Warner Bros. Discovery shuts down CNN+, the streaming service billed as CNN’s attempt at a bold digital future.
CNN+ said Thursday that it will cease operations on April 30.
“While today’s decision is very difficult, it is the right decision for CNN’s long-term success,” Chris Licht, the incoming president of CNN, wrote in a note. “It allows us to refocus resources on core products that drive our unique focus: further enhancing CNN’s journalism and reputation as a global news leader.”
The shutdown is a dizzying and disgraceful end to a process in which CNN has spent tens of millions of dollars, from a robust nationwide marketing campaign to hiring hundreds of new employees to hiring big and expensive media stars, including former “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace and co-host Ex-NPR’s Audi Cornish.
Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and principal architect of broadcast strategy, is also stepping down.
Key players at CNN+ were told of the decision just hours before Mr. Licht announced the news in a town hall at noon, and several regular employees learned of the platform’s end via news reports on social media.
But the seeds that led to its demise were sown weeks ago.
CNN developed the platform under the auspices of its previous parent company, WarnerMedia – owner of the prestigious HBO television and film studio Warner Bros. Prior to its merger with Discovery, home to reality TV movies like “90 Day Fiancé” and home improvement gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Discovery’s leadership team, including its CEO, David Zaslav, have long been skeptical about the massive investment in CNN+ and the broader network-with-service strategy. CNN+ debuted just days before the merger was completed last month, to the frustration of some Discovery executives.
For the newly appointed team at CNN+, it didn’t help that the service’s biggest hero, former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, was forced to resign under pressure in February after he admitted to an undisclosed romantic affair with a close colleague.
Mr. Licht and JB Perrette, Head of Global Broadcasting at Warner Bros. Discovery, Had several meetings over the past several weeks to see what to do with the service.
In his Thursday afternoon meeting with CNN staff, Mr. Licht compared CNN’s efforts to launch CNN+ to a builder building a house without being allowed to speak to the intended owner, according to a recording reviewed by The New York Times.
“Then the new owner came and said, ‘What a beautiful house!’ said Mr. Licht, according to the recording. ‘And that does not take anything away from this beautiful house that I have built. I’m proud of that, I’m proud of this team, and I’m amazed at what this means to you.”
At the same meeting, Mr. Perrett recalled tweets he called the “CNN Minus” service because the digital device does not include content from the CNN cable network. “This is the global calling card of this new organization,” he said. (To avoid conflict with CNN’s agreements with cable carriers, CNN+ has included live programming that has appeared on its cable network.)
Mr. Perrett also noted Discovery’s “painful” history of launching similar smaller streaming services – focused on cars, food and golf – and said they are expensive in the market and have a limited audience.
“We have failed at nearly every turn in launching these products,” he said, according to a recording of the meeting.
Discovery executives thought CNN+ was off to a slow start: At any one time, there were fewer than 10,000 people using the service, according to a person familiar with the numbers who is not authorized to speak publicly. However, two people inside CNN said the service has about 150,000 paying subscribers, and is on track to meet the network’s goals in its first year.
CNN planned to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, according to two people familiar with the matter, budget for an additional 500 employees, including producers, engineers and programmers, and rent an additional floor of its Midtown Manhattan offices to accommodate them.
Warner Bros. debt reports. Discovery is about $55 billion, and executives are now under pressure to pay it off. The company also said it would generate $3 billion in savings, which would result in a tightening of the belt in some divisions.
In February, as CNN was preparing to launch the streaming service, the network was torn apart by the departure of Mr. Zucker, its longtime chief and the network’s most prominent supporter.
However, Grid continued to advance. In February, Mr. Keeler, addressing a group of broadcasters and executives stunned by Mr. Zucker’s departure, said the streaming service was an integral part of CNN’s future. And in March, as a merger with Discovery loomed, CNN held a launch party for the new service at Peak, a stylish restaurant and bar at 30 Hudson Yards not far from the network’s New York offices. At the ceremony, CNN announced Ted Turner, the powerful founder of CNN, as the service’s first subscriber.
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