The New York Times‘ John Koblin and Michael Grynbaum write about the formation of CNN+ and break some news today about the CNN linear network.
According to the Times, WarnerMedia Sports & News chairman Jeff Zucker recently approached agents for CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King about her possibly taking over the network’s 9 p.m. ET hour, a slot that has experienced a ratings slump since Chris Cuomo was fired for assisting with the efforts of his brother, former New York Andrew M. Cuomo, to fend off sexual harassment allegations.
In theory, this wouldn’t be a bad idea for either party. Zucker would get the star power he needs for cable news’ key primetime hour, and the network would probably let King anchor from the network’s L.A. bureau (her kids, grandkids, and Oprah are all based out west) at 6 p.m. local time.
However, it appears that approach ultimately did not work, as King has reportedly renewed her contract to remain with CBS News.
Zucker has never been shy about courting high-profile talent. He reportedly approached Rachel Maddow last fall with a $20 million per year offer to be a part of the network’s soon-to-launch streaming service CNN+.
It may seem as though CNN is late to the streaming game, as all of its cable and broadcast news competitors launched services years ago. But, CNN’s service appears to be different, mixing hard news with original lifestyle programming fronted by hosts from CNN TV, as well as personalities who are new to the company.
“Mr. [WarnerMedia News & Sports chairman Jeff] Zucker is turning to a strategy honed during his days as the executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show in the 1990s, mixing hard news with a heavy dose of lifestyle coverage and tips on how to bake a pear cobbler,” Koblin and Grynbaum write.
CNN TV’s ratings are substantially down from 2021—and it remains to be seen if there’s still enough interest among the viewing public to justify a soon-to-be-announced monthly subscription fee for CNN+ (Fox News’ Fox Nation also features a subscription model, whereas ABC, NBC and CBS’ streaming services are ad-supported.)
“A subscriber every month only has to find one thing that they want,” Zucker told the NYT. “We don’t need the subscriber to be interested in everything we’re offering, but they need to be interested in something.”
But, CNN is giving it a go, signing high profile personalities like Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, NPR All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish, former NBC News congressional correspondent and MSNBC host Kasie Hunt, actress Eva Longoria, celebrity chef and influencer Alison Roman and former NBA player and social media influencer Rex Chapman to host shows on the streamer, set to launch at the end of March/early April.
CNN+ is also expected to include coverage of politics and breaking news, similar to what viewers see on the existing linear network. However, this could create a problem with cable companies who distribute CNN TV. CNN already asks for a lot of money from those distributors and, as the Times notes, they will not be happy if CNN+ includes too much news programming that potentially competes with what’s on the cable network. For example, CNN+ recently announced that Wolf Blitzer will host a primetime evening newscast on the streaming service. It is being called a “traditional evening news show with a sleek, modern twist,” which, to be fair, does sound a bit different than his nightly CNN show, which focuses almost exclusively on politics. The company is certainly walking a fine line here.
CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia is likely to merge with Discovery Inc. later this year, creating a combined company named WarnerBros Discovery. It remains to be seen what CNN+ will look like after the merger, but WarnerMedia is already putting a ton of sources into the streaming news service. According to NYT, this includes hundreds of producers, reporters, engineers and programmers and the company is also renting an additional floor of its headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to accommodate the additional hires.