CNN is racing to secure distribution for its new streaming service with more partners ahead of its launch later this month.
CNN+ already has agreements with Apple and Roku but it’s hoping to close deals with other distributors before the launch, CNN Digital chief Andrew Morse said in an interview at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The company also previously announced a deal with Comcast.
In the interview, Morse didn’t mention Amazon.com, one of the largest distributors of streaming services in the world via its Fire devices. Securing full distribution is vital for any new streaming service, as CNN owner WarnerMedia knows well. The company’s main streaming service, HBO Max, debuted without distribution on Amazon, which slowed its customer growth out of the gate.
CNN+ is set to launch on 29 March with a mix of topical news shows hosted by existing on-air talent and lifestyle programming featuring newcomers like actress Eva Longoria and food writer Alison Roman. The service is CNN’s most ambitious (and expensive) new initiative since the network’s launch, Morse said, as the network tries to broaden its audience online following a decline in the number of people paying for linear TV.
“We feel very confident we’ll grow a healthy subscriber base very quickly,” Morse said, adding that the company has “ambitious but achievable” subscriber targets. CNN expects the streaming service to be profitable within a few years, he added.
Morse cited the New York Times as a model for the business. The Times has built a multifaceted subscription business around news, games and cooking.
But analysts have questioned who will pay for CNN+ when so much news is available for free. CBS and NBC both offer free news streaming services, to say nothing of all the news on YouTube.
Morse argued CNN is in a unique position, given that it doesn’t compete with mainstream entertainment services and none of its direct rivals in news has the same level of resources. “There is no other news organisation on the planet like CNN,” Morse said.
CNN has been reeling from the departure of its long-time leader, Jeff Zucker. Zucker resigned in February after failing to disclose an intimate relationship with one of his top lieutenants, Allison Gollust.
Some of CNN’s top anchors had questioned Zucker’s departure in meetings with their boss, Jason Kilar, and suggested that the move was motivated by personal animus between the two men.
Morse described Zucker’s departure as sad and shocking, and said he had no idea about the relationship between Zucker and Gollust. “The rules apply to everybody,” he said. “We’ve all been doing our best to lead through a pretty difficult period.”
The rules apply to everybody. We’ve all been doing our best to lead through a pretty difficult period
The merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery looms over the launch of CNN+. When the deal closes in the coming months, the combined company will own three different streaming services — HBO Max, Discovery+ and CNN+ — that all offer related kinds of unscripted programming.
Morse expects Discovery will want to make some changes. But for now, the company is focused on getting the launch right. — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP