I know a lot of the kinds of media-political people who keep cable news going all day long in the background, but I don’t know anyone who subscribed to CNN+. And you probably don’t, either. Hundreds of millions of dollars were sunk into the streaming service. It outlasted its architect, Jeff Zucker, but lived only for a month before being put down by CNN’s new owners. In a meeting with staff on Thursday, JB Perrette, the streaming boss at the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery, pointed out how people were calling it “CNN minus,” since it couldn’t even stream the network’s live coverage due to agreements with cable carriers.
While nobody was much surprised, it was a real face-plant. The streaming service just rolled out with a glitzy launch party on March 28, 100 floors up at Hudson Yards. Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash and Anderson Cooper and Ethan Hawke were there. Also, Atlantic writer Molly Jong-Fast, who told me, “I was at the Talk magazine party too, so I recognized the vibe, which is, Are we going to be able to pull this off?” Scott Galloway, who was hosting an irreverent CNN+ show about tech and business, describes the vibe that night as “cautious optimism.”
When the Discovery merger closed two weeks ago, it became only a matter of time until the streaming platform would be killed. The recent Netflix subscriber nosedive just reinforced the problem of streamer overload. Who wants to pay for all of these things? CNN+ was reportedly drawing only 10,000 active users. Blog posts do better numbers than that. This one probably will.
CNNers are fuming that the launch was allowed to happen in the first place. Hundreds of new employees were brought on, and many will be fired. Naturally, they complained to the New York Post, comparing it — inevitably — to the great Quibi debacle. The new head of CNN, Chris Licht, reportedly compared it to building a house for an owner who arrives to say, “But I need an apartment.” He added that it was “a uniquely shitty situation.”
Galloway is bummed about his show but concedes, “It’s the right move for Discovery. The cards had been dealt with two things: One, Zucker leaving, so it was kind of like Dad wasn’t home to protect the household, if you will; and two, Netflix stock off 62 percent just says that this unbelievable run of streaming has slowed down, and so there’s going to be massive consolidation. Personally, I’m sad to see it end, but I had a great time.”
There are now discussions happening at all levels about which talent and staff can be saved, perhaps brought into CNN’s core programming block, its digital operation, or the wider streaming world of Warner Bros. Discovery. Meanwhile, there was some serious Schadenfreude being felt over at 1211 Sixth Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. Hyenas at Fox were cackling over the uncertain fate of Chris Wallace, who had left them for CNN+, telling the New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum in an exit interview how life at Fox had become “unsustainable.” Now, laugh the hyenas, Wallace will understand the true meaning of unsustainability. His comments to Grynbaum had particularly infuriated Fox brass because, as Megyn Kelly dished about Wallace on a podcast earlier this week, “He was in last place every week, every year, every month” and “they still paid him.” (Wallace did not return a request for comment.)
Never one to miss a good media meltdown, de-platformed Donald Trump quickly rushed out a catty statement about CNN+, writing, “It was like an empty desert out there despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars and the hiring of the low-rated Chris Wallace, a man who tried so hard to be his father, Mike, but lacked the talent and whatever else is necessary to be a star. In any event, it’s just one more piece of CNN and Fake News that we don’t have to bother with anymore!”