CNN+ streaming service will shut down weeks after it launched

Chris Wallace inside the CNN+ studio in Washington on Jan 20, 2022. He was among the media stars CNN hired for the launch of the new streaming operation. Andrew Mangum/The New York Times
Warner Bros. Discovery has decided to shut down CNN+, the ballyhooed streaming service that had been intended to bring CNN into the digital future, just weeks after its splashy debut.

The service is set to cease operations Apr 30. Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and a key architect of the streaming strategy, will also step down.

“While today’s decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for the long-term success of CNN,” Chris Licht, incoming president of CNN, wrote in a memo. “It allows us to refocus resources on the core products that drive our singular focus: further enhancing CNN’s journalism and its reputation as a global news leader.”

Lichtalso held an all-hands meeting among CNN+ staffers Thursday.

The shutdown is a stunning and ignominious end to an operation into which CNN had sunk tens of millions of dollars, from an aggressive nationwide marketing campaign to adding hundreds of new employees to hiring big, high-priced media stars, including former “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace and former NPR co-host Audie Cornish.

But the service’s fortunes changed abruptly after CNN’s former parent, WarnerMedia — owner of prestige TV powerhouse HBO and storied Warner Bros. film studio — completed its merger with Discovery, home to reality TV hits such as “90 Day Fiance” and home-improvement gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines. Since the merger closed earlier this month, doubts have swirled over the future of CNN+, which was promoted to CNN employees and subscribers as the future of the network.

Executives from Discovery, including CEO David Zaslav, are beginning to impose their designs on the newly formed company, which is called Warner Bros. Discovery, putting in place a new management team and sketching out the contours of a new streaming strategy.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar and Ann Sarnoff, the top executive of the WarnerMedia Studios, have both announced their departures from the company.

CNN had planned to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, according to people familiar with the matter, budgeting for 500 additional employees, including producers, engineers and programmers, and renting out an additional floor of its offices in midtown Manhattan to accommodate them.

But the newly formed company has its own corporate priorities that could conflict with the big spending of CNN+. As part of its deal with former WarnerMedia owner AT&T, Discovery executives agreed to assume $55 billion in debt, which executives are now under pressure to repay. The company also said it would find $3 billion in savings between the two companies, which could result in belt tightening at some divisions.

In February, as CNN was preparing to release the streaming service, the network was torn by the departure of Jeff Zucker, its long-serving president who resigned after failing to disclose a relationship with the network’s marketing chief. Zucker was a champion of CNN+, and his exit meant loss of the most prominent proponent of the service at the network.

Still, the network forged ahead. In February, addressing a group of anchors and executives stunned by Zucker’s departure, Kilar said the streaming service was integral to the future of CNN. And in March, as the merger with Discovery loomed, CNN held a launch party for the new service at Peak, a sleek restaurant and bar at 30 Hudson Yards not far from the network’s New York offices. At the party, CNN announced that Ted Turner, the voluble founder of CNN, was the service’s first subscriber.

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