The highly anticipated launch of cable news leader CNN's direct-to-consumer streaming play, CNN Plus (aka CNN+), has been officially announced for the first quarter of 2022.
“CNN invented cable news in 1980, defined online news in 1995 and now is taking an important step in expanding what news can be by launching a direct-to-consumer streaming subscription service in 2022,” said Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and president of CNN Worldwide, in the first official WarnerMedia news release announcing the service.
So what will the app look like? What CNN news personalities will populate it? Who are the executive leaders? How much will it cost? What platforms will it run on? Here's what we know so far.
What's in This DTC Service?
Like all media companies rooted in broadcast and cable linear channels, CNN and its parent company, WarnerMedia, must do the familiar monkey dance of building OTT audiences while not too badly cannibalizing its pay TV user base.
CNN is currently in the midst of a post-election hangover, coming off a year that produced its biggest linear and digital audiences ever, but is currently experiencing deep declines in both user metrics.
Meanwhile, like every other operator of linear networks, CNN continues to see steady distribution declines from cord cutting.
So here’s the answer.
“CNN Plus will feature original, live, on demand and interactive programming as a standalone direct-to-consumer service with offerings that are separate and distinct from CNN, CNN International, HLN and CNN en Español linear TV channels,” the cable news company's announcement said.
CNN promises eight to 12 hours a day of live programming, “offering topical deep dives and lifestyle content from some of CNN's most prominent talent, as well as several new faces … ."
At launch CNN Plus will be an ad-free experience, WarnerMedia officials have said. But as happened with premium entertainment streaming service HBO Max, the plan over time is to launch an ad-supported version as an alternative.
From CNN’s introductory statement, CNN Plus talent and the content don’t seem very different from the flagship linear CNN channel.
CNN Plus will launch with a library of nonfiction, long-form programming including past seasons of CNN’s original series and films, including Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, This is Life with Lisa Ling and United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.
Additionally, CNN said it “will build upon that library“ with new original series and films developed for specifically for CNN Plus, which will be unveiled later this year. The latest WarnerMedia press releases about CNN Plus can be found here.
What Stars Will Be On CNN Plus?
The first big name to jump to CNN Plus from another news organization came from NBC News. Kasie Hunt, a former Capitol Hill correspondent and host of Way Too Early (and frequent appearer on Morning Joe) on MSNBC, in July announced her departure to become the chief national affairs analyst. She joined the startup streaming service this past September. Also in September came word that tech entrepreneur and gadfly Scott Galloway would have his own show when CNN Plus launches in early 2022. “Think ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ minus the talent and production values,” the New York University Stern School marketing professor tweeted. “Life is so rich.”
Chris Wallace of Fox News is probably the biggest boldfaced anchor to join the fledgling service, having announced the move during his Fox News Sunday program (which he hosted for 18 years) on December 12. And with travel programming being a staple on CNN, it was not surprising to learn that Eva Longoria had been tapped to appear in an original series Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico. The six-part series will be produced by RAW, the company behind CNN’s Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. In her show, Longoria will travel across Mexico telling stories about its food and culture.
Take Us to Your Leaders
Andrew Morse, the Cornell-educated former ABC News executive, who has been with CNN since 2013 and currently serves as chief digital officer for CNN Worldwide, will oversee the new DTC initiative.
Reporting to Morse as general manager will be Alex MacCallum, CNN Worldwide's head of product. A former New York Times digital executive, she'll oversee product development, customer acquisition and marketing, strategy and growth, and revenue operations.
Veteran CNN producer Rebecca Kutler will serve as senior VP and head of programming for CNN Plus, overseeing development, production and programming of live and taped shows.
Meanwhile, Courtney Coupe will serve as senior VP of content strategy and operations for the new subscription streaming service, handling strategy, curation and programming of content, as well as community management.
Robyn Peterson, CNN Worldwide's CTO, will be the platform's lead technologist.
CNN’s Original Series and Films unit, led by CNN Worldwide executive VP for talent and content development, Amy Entelis, is developing new series and films for the platform.
VP of program development, Katie Hinman, will lead the development and production of external series for CNN Plus, working with Jon Adler, VP of program development for CNN Original Series.
Morse told Variety that CNN is looking to hire as 450 additional staffers to support CNN Plus prior to its launch.
"We are going to take a pretty big swing here, and the company's behind it," said Morse, adding that he sees a potential global audience of 290 million news consumers.
Now that would be a big swing.
What Will the App Look Like
CNN has deployed a TV Everywhere app, supported by the vast majority of connected TV and mobile platforms, for nearly a decade. And the news company will continue to offer just one app, used by both its direct-to-consumer and pay TV customers.
The app will include CNN’s linear TV feeds of CNN, CNN International, HLN and CNN en Español channels, which will be available exclusively for pay TV subscribers. If pay TV subscribers choose to buy CNN Plus, they can also access the DTC platform's content, and vice-versa.
There's no word yet on any app or UX redesigns, but leveraging the existing app limits the potential for major support disputes out of the gate for CNN Plus.
How Much Will CNN Plus Cost?
WarnerMedia and CNN haven't announced pricing for the new standalone streaming service. But don't expect it to be too pricey ... or stand too alone, for that matter.
The early buzz suggests that CNN Plus will be aggressively bundled along with HBO Max and Discovery Plus, the two OTT pillars recently joined together by AT&T's spinoff of WarnerMedia and merger of it with Discovery Inc.
Fox News is often called a "rival" for CNN, even though it caters to an audience with dramatically different political sensibilities But in this case, as we try to predict CNN Plus' go-to-market strategy, it's useful to note that DTC service Fox Nation runs $6.99 a month, or $64.99 for a full-year commitment.
“For 41-years, global audiences have turned to CNN as an essential source of news and information, which is rooted in our deep commitment to quality journalism,” Morse said in a statement. “CNN Plus will be built on a foundation of world class reporting and storytelling and a commitment to meet our audiences wherever they are.” ■