CNN is hiring hundreds of people and developing dozens of programs for a subscription streaming service that will launch early next year.
The new venture, called CNN+, was formally announced on Monday morning. It will exist side by side with CNN’s existing television networks and will feature eight to twelve hours of live programming a day.
Jeff Zucker, the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and president of CNN Worldwide, portrayed CNN+ as the evolution of video news and the start of a new era for the company.
“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,” Zucker said in a statement.
The executive in charge of CNN+, chief digital officer Andrew Morse, said “this is the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980.”
That’s because it is an urgent bid to keep up with changing consumer demands.
While tens of millions of people access CNN through a subscription to a cable or satellite television bundle, all cable – and broadcast – networks have taken a hit due to cord-cutting in recent years, and the popularity of products like Netflix has shown the growing appeal of streaming alternatives.
CNN can’t just sell its current live programming via streaming due to lucrative and long-term deals with cable distributors. The company generates more than a billion dollars in profit annually, largely from cable subscriber fees and advertising.
So CNN is effectively building a parallel track, right next to its existing TV track, to serve both existing cable subscribers who want additional programming and customers who don’t have cable at all.
Zucker framed it this way in his statement: “On top of a television offering that has never been stronger, which remains at the core of what we do today, we will offer consumers a streaming product that grows the reach and scope of the CNN brand in a way that no one else is doing. Nothing like this exists.”
The new streaming service will launch in the first quarter of 2022. Morse said in an interview that it will have three components: Eight to twelve hours of live programming a day; original series, some brand new for CNN+ and some from the network’s archives; and something Morse called an “interactive community.”
He said the latter will give subscribers the ability “to engage directly with our talent and experts about the issues that matter most to them.”
The price tag for CNN+ will be announced later, as will specific programs and the live schedule. The service will launch first in the United States and will roll out later in other countries. Producers have been piloting possible shows in recent weeks. Morse said the shows will be led by “some of CNN’s most prominent talent, as well as several new faces,” alluding to some planned hires.
Morse also emphasized that the daily programming will be differentiated from what CNN already produces on TV.
“It’s not going to be a news headline service,” he said, citing opportunities for “more deep dives” into subjects like climate change; space and science; and race and identity.
“You’re also going to see things that surprise you,” he added, hinting at the possibility that CNN anchors will be showcased in new ways.
CNN has about 4,000 employees, making it one of the largest news operations in the world. Morse said CNN is hiring about 450 people for CNN+, from producers to engineers to marketers.
The sizable number of job openings is a reflection of CNN parent WarnerMedia’s investment in the product on the heels of the HBO Max streaming service launch last year.
“We are going to take a pretty big swing here, and the company’s behind it,” Morse said.
CNN+ will be entering a crowded environment of streaming news. The broadcast networks all have free streaming channels that act basically as news wheels, running a mix of live headlines and taped stories.
Morse argued that the broadcast networks “lack the resources” to launch something as ambitious as CNN+.
Fox News has a three-year-old streaming service called Fox Nation, but it is billed as an “entertainment” product, and is largely known for right-wing opinion programming.
Other rivals in the news space, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have big subscription businesses, but they are text-based, not video-based. CNN+ will be “focused on video” at launch, Morse said, though “as we understand how customers are consuming the service, we can totally think about new kinds of formats,” including podcasts and long-form articles.
Surveying this landscape, Morse concluded that CNN+ will be “very different from anything else that’s out in the marketplace.”
In the industry-wide race for subscribers, one of the billion-dollar questions has been: How many people might be willing to pay for news coverage?
Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said earlier this year that The Times sees a market “of at least 100 million people who are expected to pay for English-language journalism.”
When asked about the potential reach of CNN+ in the future, Morse said “we think, given our brand reach; given our credibility; given our trust; given the fact that we reach 290 million across linear and digital platforms globally, that there’s a really substantial audience opportunity for us.”