Can CNN+ Succeed in a Streaming-Heavy Universe?

By A.J. Katz 

WarnerMedia’s paid streaming news service CNN+ is getting ready for launch.

CNN talent including Wolf Blitzer have been testing out show formats, reports Business Insider’s Steven Perlberg. Erin Burnett confirmed to us in an interview earlier this fall that she too will contribute to the service, although she didn’t know exactly what that would entail. “It’s not just a simple, ‘OK, cool, I’m going to go on there.’ It’s more, ‘What are you going to do on there?’” Burnett told TVNewser in October. “I think that is exciting. It is an opportunity to flex or grow another set of muscles.”

While a launch date is not yet set, CNN’s offering is launching into a crowded streaming field which includes news/information networks like Discovery+, Peacock and Fox Nation. Hulu and Netflix have also beefed up their non-fiction programming.


Some CNN staffers have expressed trepidation about CNN+, according to Perlberg. Brands like Fox News and MSNBC have diehard fanbases, similar to ESPN, Bravo or HGTV. But does CNN have the type of consistent audience that will pay for a standalone product? CNN is hoping an increase of cord cutting helps the cause. The Trade Desk surveyed 2,100 cable TV subscribers at the beginning of 2021 and nearly 28% said they planned to cancel cable by the end of year.

“I think everyone internally realizes that this kind of thing needs to work long term,” a CNN source told Perlberg.

CBS News is a trailblazer in the streaming news space, having launched CBSN in 2014. NBC News has NBC News NOW, which just launched two new programs (with a third coming before end of year). ABC News also has a streaming service, ABC News Live.

The plans for a standalone service started to take shape before the proposed WarnerMedia merger with Discovery. It remains to be seen if CNN+ will remain a standalone streaming news service after the merger, or if CNN content will join movies, entertainment, sports and lifestyle content from Discovery as part of a mega Warner Bros. Discovery service that could replace or sit alongside HBO Max.

“They can always launch CNN+ as a standalone, give it its own identity, voice, management structure, and then—having created a sensation—you can play that card in other ways moving forward,” former CNN president Jon Klein told Perlberg. “The fun of the streaming business is that it is still nascent, and there are no business models set in stone.”

CNN Worldwide originally planned to hire 450 people for CNN+ ahead of launch. However, according to Perlberg, citing a source, the company is now planning to go beyond that number, hiring engineers, marketers and audience engagement analysts to power the back-end.

Video staffers and producers have also been moved from other parts of the company to join CNN+, which plans to begin with 8-12 hours of live daily programming.

As of now, that programming includes a political show hosted by former MSNBC anchor/NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt and a business and tech program hosted by NYU professor and media personality Scott Galloway.

The streamer will also include the network’s original series and films, like the library of original series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown or Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.

On the talent front, Brian Williams, who recently left NBC News and MSNBC, could be the big name CNN+ wants on its roster. There’s the old NBC connection with Jeff Zucker. Zucker reportedly tried to lure Rachel Maddow away from MSNBC. However, that effort proved unsuccessful, and Maddow signed a new deal with NBCU earlier this fall.