Culminating perhaps the most disastrous launch in streaming video history, Warner Bros. Discovery announced Thursday that it will shut down CNN Plus after just 33 days in the market, the conglomerate said.
CNN Plus will end operations on April 30, and its architect, Chief Digital Officer Andrew Morse, will step down.
Also read: Is CNN Plus Headed for a Quibi-Quick Exit?
“As we become Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN will be strongest as part of WBD’s streaming strategy which envisions news as an important part of a compelling broader offering along with sports, entertainment, and nonfiction content,” said Chris Licht, chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide. “We have therefore made the decision to cease operations of CNN Plus and focus our investment on CNN’s core news-gathering operations and in further building CNN Digital. This is not a decision about quality; we appreciate all of the work, ambition and creativity that went into building CNN Plus, an organization with terrific talent and compelling programming. But our customers and CNN will be best served with a simpler streaming choice.”
Licht, the former Late Show with Stephen Colbert producer hired in February to replace Jeff Zucker as CNN chief, was expected to start May 2 and immediately start reviewing CNN Plus' troubled launch with the newly installed Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) management team.
But with reports surfacing earlier this week that CNN Plus had gathered only around 150,000 subscribers, and WBD had stopped external marketing spend for the service, Licht seems to have been called into start work early.
Regarding what was described as Morse's decision to exit, he said, “We are grateful to Andrew for his significant contributions to CNN Digital and CNN Plus over the years. He and his team created a quality slate of rich and compelling content and helped produce and distribute CNN’s journalism around the world on a variety of platforms. We appreciate Andrew and everyone’s hard work and dedication.’’
Replacing Morse as head of CNN Digital will be Alex MacCallum, currently head of product and general manager.
CNN hired 400 employees to hoist CNN Plus, and WarnerMedia was reported to have budgeted $300 million in first-year cost. But CNN Plus seemed doomed before it evened launched.
In January, CNN chief Jeff Zucker was forced to resign amid claims that he improperly conducted an office romance with former marketing head Allison Gollust.
Meanwhile, WBD CEO David Zaslav and his new team have been reportedly unhappy with the erstwhile WarnerMedia's decision to proceed with the CNN Plus launch before the $43 billion spinoff of WarnerMedia and merger of it with Discovery was completed earlier this month.
The Discovery view on subscription streaming services favored a strategy of a combined, properly scaled "mother ship," vs. niche apps that might compete with larger in-house offerings like HBO Max and Discovery Plus.
Once the $5.99-a-month service ($2.99 "for life" if you signed up in the first month) did hit the market on March 29, pundits wondered what the market was for a new niche SVOD service ... hitting modems at a decidedly saturated moment for subscription streaming offerings.
There was distribution trouble, too -- not only was CNN Plus not available on the highly proliferated Roku platform its first week, it has remained unavailable on Google TV/Android TV devices, Samsung smart TVs, and Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox game consoles. Together, these devices control the streaming of millions of U.S. living rooms.
The sum total was a disastrous launch that will, undoubtedly, take some of the infamy away from Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg's ill-fated mobile-streaming startup that lasted only seven months in the market back in 2020.
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Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!