Opening day: CNN+ streaming service ready for launch Tuesday
New York — Once a familiar voice on NPR, Audie Cornish says she signed on to the new CNN+ streaming service in part out of the sense she was helping to open a new frontier.
After much talk, nearly $100 million in development costs and some 500 employees assigned to the task — many, like Cornish, new hires — CNN+ is set to launch next Tuesday.
The company on Thursday revealed a typical day's schedule, with a news countdown hosted by Kate Bolduan, a deep-dive news hour hosted by Sara Sidner, a Chris Wallace interview show, and hours on politics, international news and the media topped by Wolf Blitzer's evening newscast.
“It's so rare to have a legacy news organization pour resources into something like this, at this scale,” said Cornish, whose weekly interview show “20 Questions” will debut in May. “A lot of times people say they will pivot into something, and it can be half-hearted. I really appreciated that they were going all-in.”
She said that it's “rare that anyone says come and do what you do for us. It's usually, ‘come and do what we need.’"
CNN+ is a big swing, done at a tumultuous time in the company's leadership, and there's no shortage of skepticism in the industry about its chances. But CNN views streaming as the future, a way to engage younger consumers, and sees The New York Times as the model for a successful news subscription service.
It will cost $5.99 a month, but charter subscribers can lock in a $2.99 monthly charge in perpetuity if they act within a month of the launch.
“We think it will be incredibly attractive to the CNN fan, people who respond to our journalism, people who tune to us when there's something going on in the world,” said Andrew Morse, executive vice president and chief digital officer at CNN. "At its heart, CNN+ will be about great journalism and story-telling."
While news is the core, and CNN+ will have the ability to go live on big stories, the service is also relying on a growing library of original series and films, such as “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “RBG.” CNN+ will also emphasize programs featuring people who have a specific, devoted following, like Alison Roman in cooking, Scott Galloway in business and Jemele Hill and Rex Chapman in sports and culture. CNN's Anderson Cooper will have a show on parenting, and Jake Tapper, a seven-time author himself, will have a program focusing on books.
Two online series will be available at launch: “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence,” about media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and “The Land of the Giants: Titans of Tech,” profiles of the biggest high-tech firms.
Also planned is an interactive element where subscribers can put questions directly to show hosts.
News competitors are already in the paid streaming space. Fox Nation, another paid subscription service, is designed to appeal to those who like Fox's opinion programming. MSNBC recently announced that it will make many of its programs available through Peacock.
The ABC, CBS and NBC broadcast news divisions offer news streaming products for free.
One analyst said CNN+ may receive a boost because the war in Ukraine is reminding many consumers of the company's news muscles. CNN+ will be attractive to consumers who are cutting the cable cord but don't want to lose access to news and information, said Alan Wolk, co-founder of TVREV, a media analysis firm.
With questions about the future of cable news given its older audiences, CNN+ is the latest big step in the news industry's seemingly endless quest to reach more young people, he said.
Stephen Beck, managing partner of the consulting firm cg42, said he's concerned that CNN+ will be caught in a consumer squeeze. People have only so much money to spend on streaming services and usually opt for behemoths like Netflix, Amazon or Disney.
He questions whether CNN+ will have enough juice to compete.
“From a content side, they don't have big draws and, at the end of the day, that's what gets you into the home and onto the screen,” Beck said.
The launch comes at a time of transition for CNN, often trouble for new ventures. The network's chief executive, Jeff Zucker, was ousted in early February along with marketing executive Allison Gollust after they didn't reveal their romantic relationship to corporate superiors.
They were expected to be forceful salespeople for CNN+. And what seemed to be a steady stream of prominent hires of people like Wallace, an ex-Fox News anchor, and Kasie Hunt of NBC News has dried up since Zucker, also a persuasive recruiter, left the building.
Morse said Zucker's exit has not affected talent acquisition. Cornish, who joined CNN+ a month before Zucker's exit, said she wasn't recruited by him. Morse said other new hires will be announced soon, with health and wellness a focus.
He said he hasn't discussed CNN+ with Chris Licht, who has been hired as Zucker's replacement but hasn't started yet. CNN is also awaiting a change in corporate ownership, with Discovery's takeover from AT&T expected to get approval soon.
That impending change may have something to do with a hiring lull. Discovery's ownership may also make more talent available to CNN+ and perhaps more importantly, an avenue to more customers if it could team with Discovery and HBO Max services.
For now, the focus starts at 7 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday with “5 Things with Kate Bolduan,” a countdown of the day's top stories that is modeled after a popular CNN newsletter and podcast.
The daily schedule also includes “Go There,” which will travel around the world for news reports from CNN correspondents. The CNN+ news programming will not simulcast any current CNN television shows; contracts with cable and satellite providers forbid that.
Media correspondent Brian Stelter will have a daily version of his “Reliable Sources” show and Wallace, known for his political interviews on “Fox News Sunday,” will also venture into other subject areas on “Who's Talking to Chris Wallace?”
Blitzer's 7:30 p.m. Eastern newscast is the last scheduled live program of the day.
“We believe fundamentally the future is incredibly bright if we can build a global subscription product that values incredibly important journalism,” Morse said. “If we can do that, that will be really important to the future of CNN, but also really important to the future of the news business.”