What is CNN +, the new streaming service announced today by the cable news channel? Let’s start with the short answer: CNN + is not CNN.

Think about it, for now, like CNN Jr.

Slightly longer: If you want to watch Actual CNN, CNN + is not for you. Current CNN is still limited to people who pay for the news channel as part of a pay TV package. So CNN +, which launches next year at a price yet to be revealed, will be … something else. That is, things that are like CNN, but not at CNN (disclosure: Vox Media is producing a series with CNN Originals and I’m working on this project).

Here’s the full story: CNN +, like many other attempts by big TV programmers to enter the streaming world, is a go-between: it wants to leverage the old TV channel’s brand to create a new source. of income, without cannibalizing the thing that generates huge income and profits.

You can see why CNN and its owner – for now, it’s AT&T, owner of WarnerMedia but is considering moving it to a new company, which will combine WarnerMedia with Discovery Networks – wants that to happen. What consumers will want is another question.

But given that many other Big TV networks have tried similar “Have your streaming and eat your TV too” gambits, we know at least some of the options that CNN + is considering:

  • Give your most die-hard fans more of what they’re already getting. That’s the Fox Nation strategy: if you like the cynical disinformation Tucker Carlson peddles on his nighttime Fox News show, you might want to watch too. Tucker Carlson today, its broadcast in streaming only. I like Discovery’s Guy Fieri, but not enough to subscribe to Discovery + so I can watch too Guy: Hawaiian Style, which Discovery says will feature Fieri and his family “roaming the Hawaiian Islands for a deep dive into tradition, adventure and all types of great food.” On your side, you might want to pay. There is a lid for each jar.
  • Give die-hard fans something they want but aren’t already getting. You can’t watch college lacrosse on ESPN because college lacrosse doesn’t attract enough viewers to take up valuable airtime on a linear TV channel. But on ESPN +, which has unlimited storage – you can watch college lacrosse and at the same time I can watch German football – that makes perfect sense, as analyst Ben Thompson explained recently:

Other versions of this include Paramount + performing exclusive episodes of The good fight, a spin-off of the CBS series The good woman. It’s not for everyone, but if you liked the first show on regular TV, you might pay to stream the sequel.

  • Give almost everything to everyone and spend a ton of money on it. This is Disney + ‘s proposition: the company broadcasts (roughly) its entire catalog of films, as well as a list of big budget and high profile shows only in streaming (The Mandalorian, Loki, etc). It’s an expensive bet – because it requires paying a lot of money for new products, as well as giving up the money you can get by selling your products to other outlets – but so far it seems to have worked for Disney.

The problem for CNN / WarnerMedia executives is that CNN + is unlike any of the above. And it may be that CNN’s product just doesn’t work as a stand-alone streaming product: there might be avid Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper fans willing to pay extra to see more, but there are some avid Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper fans out there who are willing to pay extra to see more. it’s hard to believe that there are many. Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet that the Jake Tappers and Anderson Coopers of the world will continue to put most of their energy and focus on TV, because that’s where the audience, the fame and the money.

And while CNN does a great job (again, see the disclosure), it does best when there’s breaking news and you need to know what’s going on right now, in real time. The rest of the time, it’s extremely difficult to find something you’ll want to watch instead of the news, while you’re browsing the channels. And in a world of on-demand streaming, if you’re looking for something to watch besides the news, you have endless options. More worryingly, it may turn out that in a world of on-demand streaming, when you want to watch real-time news, you may have plenty of other options.

The best scenario for CNN + is one that officials already allude to: that it is something that you do not pay directly, but as part of another package.

Record scratch here: wasn’t it all TV broadcast point to sever the cable TV package and replace it with a menu of networks and shows we could choose from when we want? Well yes. Except the people who make and sell entertainment like the package – and they think you’ll like it, too. That’s why Disney lets you buy Hulu, Disney +, and ESPN + together at a discount, and that’s why HBO Max exists – because WarnerMedia thinks you’re more likely to buy HBO if it comes with it. a lot of other stuff as well as HBO. (You can credibly say that Netflix, meanwhile, is its own package.)

In that case, there’s a good chance CNN + will be integrated with HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s “HBO + a few other stuff” service, which is already likely to wrap Discovery + (another tween service) if and when the WarnerMedia / Discovery merger takes place. Thus, Warner Bros. Discovery could use CNN + as a justification for raising the prices of HBO Max – or it could just get it for free so you feel like you’re getting extra value for the streaming dollars.

You can already see other examples of this in the wild: you can buy a standalone subscription at New York Times cooking app for $ 5 a month – or you can purchase an “all access” subscription which gives you the newspaper cooking app, the games app and the whole newspaper itself for $ 17 per month. And if this is the future of CNN +, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you pay for it – you’ll just get it alongside a bunch of other stuff, whether you like it. or not. Just like good old-fashioned TV.


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