CNN Plus, the news network’s dedicated streaming service, is shutting down before even turning a month old. Chris Licht, the new CEO of CNN, delivered the news to his new team at an all-hands meeting on Thursday, and the service will shut down entirely on April 30th.
Licht congratulated the CNN Plus team in a memo to staff announcing the shutdown and said that the decision “is not a reflection of the quality of the talent and content at CNN+, some of which will migrate to CNN’s programming or some of the company’s other networks.” The decision, he said, was about broader strategy. “In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service, which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings.” Employees will be paid and receive benefits for the next 90 days, he said, and those who don’t end up in other roles at the company will get at least six months’ severance. Andrew Morse, the head of CNN Plus, is leaving the company.
The network seemed to be doomed from the very beginning. CNN imagined the service as a new way of thinking about news coverage, with new personality-driven shows and access to some of CNN’s best original series. It had a somewhat confusing relationship with the parent network; CNN Plus didn’t offer a streaming version of the linear channel and instead tried to build a different, more personalized version of the news report. The company was also attempting to figure out how to bring news content to a more on-demand audience and make the news a more interactive process.
It has been widely reported that CNN planned to spend about $1 billion on CNN Plus over a few years and had already poured at least $100 million (and as much as $300 million) into the service. Given the size of the investment, the early subscriber numbers were pretty bleak: Axios reported that about 150,000 people had signed up for the $5.99-a-month service as of this week, while CNBC reported that fewer than 10,000 people were using it on a daily basis.
It’s hard to say whether CNN Plus could have worked over time because it was shut down at least in part because it violated a broader corporate strategy. The service launched in the middle of huge turnover at the company, both with Licht’s appointment and with the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery corporate structure being finalized. Executives were reportedly frustrated that CNN Plus launched at all, especially as Warner Bros. Discovery shifts its strategy toward building one massive combined streaming service that includes both HBO Max and Discovery Plus. In that world, CNN Plus likely makes more sense as a feature than a standalone service.
A lot of streaming services have come and gone quickly in recent years, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one with a shorter shelf life than CNN Plus. Verizon’s Go90 lasted a comparatively impressive three years, and even Quibi lasted a bit more than six months.