The Last Thing Anyone Wanted Was Another Streaming Service

So, why did CNN set up so many journalists to fail?

The Last Thing Anyone Wanted Was Another Streaming Service
Image:Noam Galai (Getty Images)

The last time you sat down to watch a movie or TV, did you look at the array of icons cluttering the home screen of your preferred digital media player and think, “This would be great, if only I had just one more streaming subscription”? No? Well then, CNN really could have used you in the boardroom last year when they decided to launch their own subscription news service, aptly called CNN+. Now, just three weeks after CNN+ debuted, the platform’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, is pulling the plug and leaving all of its newly-hired staffers suddenly out of work.

“This decision is in line with WBD’s broader direct-to-consumer strategy,” Chris Licht, who will take over as CNN’s CEO later this year, said in a statement about the move. “In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service, which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings.”

From the brand’s launch, the numbers were grim. In its first two weeks, the platform averaged under 10,000 daily users. For comparison, Disney+ registered 10 million sign ups on its first day.

However, the numbers aren’t the whole story. Anyone who’s seen outlets come and go—which, at this point, is anyone who even slightly follows media—knows that the news is something many people famously do not like paying for, and it always seemed unlikely that CNN+’s debut would set the streaming world on fire. Instead, most of the platform’s new hires probably thought what any journalist does when mulling a job at an unproven outlet: That there was a good chance that it would eventually fold, but at least they’d have a year or so to try to make the platform thrive, and hopefully produce some solid work along the way.

One reason that the endeavor didn’t get the standard year or two is likely that, just before CNN+ launched, CNN’s parent company Warner Media (home of HBO and Warner Bros.) was acquired by Discovery (home of Animal Planet and HGTV), which resulted in the new media behemoth Warner Bros. Discovery. Former Discovery CEO David Zaslav is now president and CEO of the whole shebang, and was apparently never a fan of even launching CNN+—according to Variety, he’s planning on uniting all the company’s streamers, like HBO Max and Disovery+, into one platform.

In addition to well-known broadcasters like Audie Cornish, Kasie Hunt and Chris Wallace, the brand also hired media figures including Alison Roman and Eva Longoria, as well as many more workers who lack national name recognition and the near-guaranteed future job prospects that comes with it. Now, hundreds might lose their jobs, all thanks to some shoddy planning and corporate dealmaking.

Though a platform lasting only a few weeks feels like some kind of record, CNN+ isn’t the first streamer to shutter. Quibi, which attracted stars like Laura Dern and Idris Elba, and promised to revolutionize entertainment with its short-form offerings, lasted just eight months in 2020. In Quibi’s case, it turned out that people didn’t want to watch their TV in five minute segments. However, there also just isn’t enthusiasm for more streaming services.

Arriving on the heels of Netflix reporting subscriber losses for the first time ever—which cratered the media giant’s stock prices—the demise of CNN+ seems to make it clear that the streaming boom is waning. People are tired of juggling logins and platforms, of having five different companies taking varying but always rising sums of money out of our bank accounts every month. There’s no need to risk people’s jobs just to run this experiment one more time.

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