Warner Bros. Discovery is banking that 24/7 live news will make its Max streaming service relevant again. CEO David Zaslav said last week at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Technology Conference that the company will focus on creating sustainable growth for shareholders. He’s making a bet that offering a version of CNN live coverage, which launches on Max starting September 27, will give the service a compelling enough hook.
There’s a lot riding on the success of CNN Max, which is launching at a time that the Max streaming service has struggled with relevancy and maintaining an audience. The company went through a big rebranding, dropping the HBO and expanding its library of reality shows from the Discovery library. But a Nielsen report showed it had just 1.4% of the total TV market, well behind leaders like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video.
It’s a far cry from when then-HBO Max generated a lot of buzz during the pandemic by putting its big-budget movies on the service the same day it hit theaters, including DC films like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad and action flicks like Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong. While that garnered a lot of viewers, it also wasn’t financially sustainable.
Warner Bros. Discovery is hoping the live element will give Max an edge over its more popular rivals.
“When you’re on Max, not only are you in your own world where you might be watching White Lotus, or Succession or Fixer Upper, but you could also tune to live news,” said Zaslav, according to Stream TV Insider. “And if something is happening in the world, you’ll see it, so the product is alive.”
It’s not the first time CNN had an independent streaming app – CNN+ was quickly shuttered when the company took over – but this new version will operate independent of the main CNN app and address the younger demographic on the streaming platform. The typical Max subscriber is roughly 30 years younger than those still hanging on to linear TV.
“Creating a 24-hour news product that’s geared more toward that generation, a younger generation, I think it’s compelling when you might have 70 million homes on linear in the U.S. and you add to that all the subscribers that we have for Max that we could reach,” said Zaslav.
As more people cut the cord with cable providers, many lack access to live news coverage. Adding CNN to offer 24/7 live news in an app members already turn to for entertainment could change the game as viewers see it as a legitimate source of news.
Offering live news coverage is only one way WBD plans to drive up membership. The WBD plans to add live sports to Max, as confirmed by Zaslav at the conference. Adding sports to Max could help reduce turnover. Diehard sports fans could walk in the digital door for the games but stick around for Max’s extensive collection of award-winning films and series during off-seasons.
He hinted that the price could increase because of that kind of content, which will be a test of just how valuable this live programming will be.
WBD hopes to increase subscriptions while also providing Max members with a source of live news.