In 2022, CNN tried to launch a subscription streaming service called CNN+. But it was the victim of corporate M&A as new parent Warner Bros Discovery shut it down after less than a month. The venerable news network is going to try again.
Last week, CNN CEO Mark Thompson, on his 100th day on the job, laid out plans for the news network’s evolution in a memo. Thompson’s goals include combining all of CNN’s newsgathering operations into one unit that will serve the network’s TV, streaming, and digital platforms, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Another unit will be assembled to explore growth and monetization opportunities like subscription formats. This includes a new subscription streaming service to watch CNN videos on phones.
The move would represent a remarkable reversal for CNN, which infamously spent hundreds of millions of dollars on big-name anchors and a newsroom only to watch the launch fall flat, with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav quickly pulling the plug on the service. Its implosion marked one of the biggest media flops in an industry littered with failures.
Thompson has the pedigree to potentially pull it off. During his tenure at The New York Times, he transformed the newspaper’s online presence by successfully implementing a subscription model as the publication expanded its premium content, particularly around areas like travel, food, and health. For CNN, Thompson plans to start with news, the “central proposition that the CNN brand brings to mind.”
It’s still unclear what that would look like or how much such a service would cost.
Thompson also told the The Wall Street Journal that he wants to find a better way to show video news on phones. The CEO said he wants to tap into formats popular with younger consumers to create a “high quality, differentiated product” that people will pay for.
“For many people today, the smartphone is a more important device for consuming news than the TV,” Thompson said in the memo. “Their news prime time is in the morning, not the evening.”
The question is whether people will pay for CNN news on phones. Increasingly, news has become something people think should be free, even as some publications have successfully put up pay walls, such as The Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg.
CNN’s move to expand beyond its cable roots comes as cord cutting has significantly disrupted the media industry over the last few years. While CNN’s linear TV service still makes money, the company’s business model and main revenue source isn’t as stable as it once was.
Over the years, CNN has had to navigate a political minefield, a constant stream of misinformation to correct, programming shakeups, the failure of CNN+, as well as mass layoffs, including the ousting of previous CEOs and popular anchors Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon.
It remains to be seen how the year will play out for CNN. For now, there aren’t a lot of details to Thompson’s plans.
No launch date or pricing for this new streaming service have been announced at this time.