Report: Warner Bros. Discovery Halts CNN+ Marketing; Is this the Beginning of the End for the Streamer?
There were a lot of questions raised about the timing of CNN+’s launch last month, as the debut of the streaming news platform came just 11 days before its parent company WanrerMedia was officially acquired by Discovery, creating new media conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery.
Former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar pushed the launch through in his final days with the company, but it looks like the new executive team at WBD is wasting little time making changes. Last week, reports started circulating that major cuts would be coming to the service, and now Axios’ Sara Fischer is reporting that the first cut was to the streamer’s marketing budget.
In Tuesday’s Media Trends Newsletter, Fischer reports that Warner Bros. Discovery has suspended all external marketing for the app and let go longtime network CFO Brad Ferrer; Discovery’s CFO for streaming and international Neil Chugani will take over the reins.
Restructuring and streamlining operations has been a priority for WBD CEO David Zaslav, so more executive-level changes are likely on the horizon.
Kilar and the rest of the CNN team saw the network’s diversification into streaming as a way to mitigate the declining role that cable subscriptions have in the marketplace, but given Discovery’s experience of launching unsuccessful niche streamers, they have prioritized building one cohesive platform for all of their content, which has lead discovery+ to become a steady performer for the company. And, with plans in the works to merge discovery+ and HBO Max, Discovery executives would have preferred to roll out CNN+ (or its content in some for or another) as part of the new company’s single streamer.
Fischer also notes that Zaslav and the new executive team at WBD is hoping to return CNN to its journalistic roots and move away from the personality-driven primetime programming that much of cable news has devolved into. The company is apparently comfortable with sacrificing short-term advertising gains in an effort to reestablish the network as the preeminent voice in news.
However, given that the streamer did not include a live news component — in an effort to not cannibalize its cable offerings — one has to ask whether or not there is a future for CNN+ (at least in its current form) under the Warner Bros. Discovery banner. Axios reports that WBD is essentially looking to break up the platform for parts. They would like to move some of the content — presumably the more news-centered programming — to the CNN website where it would live for free, supported by ads.
The network’s rich library of CNN Originals, including the Anthony Bourdain archive, would easily fit in as a vertical inside of the HBO Max platform, but that leaves the host-centric interview shows featuring Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, and CNN regulars presumably without a home.
WarnerMedia spent an estimated $300 million in CNN+ prior to launch, including substantial sums to lure personalities like Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish, Kasie Hunt, and others to the streamer. The question now becomes whether or not Warner Bros. Discovery will see those investments as sunk costs, or if they will attempt to repackage the programs for a yet-to-be-determined home, or if they will find new on-air roles for each of the personalities.
Either way, it is clear that Discovery would have preferred that CNN+ did not launch prior to the merger becoming official, and the company is actively taking steps in order to convince the public that it never existed in the first place.
CNN+ was a subscription streaming service that included 12 hours of live news and on-demand access to shows like “Parental Guidance with Anderson Cooper,” “5 Things with Kate Bolduan,” “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” The service features journalists like Chris Wallace and Audie Cornish.