CNN, record holder for shortest streaming service, wants another shot

: The logo of the US tv channel CNN is shown on the display of a smartphone on April 22, 2020 reader comments 13

On March 29, 2022, CNN+, CNN's take on a video streaming service, debuted. On April 28, 2022, it shuttered, making it the fastest shutdown of any launched streaming service. Despite that discouraging superlative, CNN has plans for another subscription-based video streaming platform, Financial Times (FT) reported on Wednesday.

Mark Thompson, who took CNN's helm in August 2023, over a year after CNN+'s demise, spoke with FT about evolving the company. The publication reported that Thompson is "working on plans for a digital subscription streaming service." The executive told the publication that a digital subscription, including digital content streaming, is "a serious possibility," adding, "no decisions had been made, but I think it’s quite likely that we’ll end up there."

CNN++, or whatever a new CNN streaming package might be named, would not just be another CNN+, per Thompson.

"We’ll know in a few years time if we’re beginning to make progress, even if that still doesn’t look like it because of the aggregation of declining platforms and growing ones," he said, requesting patience regarding the next chapter in CNN streaming.

Thompson noted that success "won't happen overnight," which suggests a slow timeline.

CNN+’s short ride

Thompson told FT that CNN+ was "a big, bold experiment which was abandoned rather briskly."


Company executives discussed plans for a CNN streaming service as early as December 2020, and in May 2021, employees learned that CNN+ was happening, Deadline reported. By July 2021, CNN confirmed the plans publicly.

But under a year later, CNN+ was no longer available, with the closure largely viewed as a casualty of parent company WarnerMedia merging with Discovery to form Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) 10 days after CNN+'s launch. The merger meant CNN now had a parent company that already owned the Discovery+ streaming service and HBO Max; it also had interest in merging Discovery content with that of HBO. In August 2022, a few months after CNN+ closed, WBD announced Max as its flagship streaming service, merging what was formerly HBO Max with Discovery+.

"In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in[-one] service which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings," Discovery’s streaming boss J.B. Perrette said in statement regarding CNN+'s closure.

CNN+ accrued high-profile news anchors, and in its three weeks of availability, it had an estimated subscriber count of 100,000–150,000, according to Variety, which reported that the early figure put the streaming service on track for year-one quotas. However, CNBC later reported that daily viewership was just around 4,000, citing an anonymous source.

In an internal meeting, Perrette showed "frustration" that CNN moved forward with CNN+'s rollout despite its parent company's merger plans, according to CNN. Perrette reportedly told employees that "some of this was avoidable." CNN's report noted that during the merger process, Discovery executives were not legally allowed to communicate with CNN executives.

CNN+'s 29-day existence makes it the shortest-lived streaming service. It took the record from Quibi, which launched in April 8, 2020, and announced on October 21, 2020, that it was throwing in the towel (Roku eventually bought Quibi for cheap).

A different landscape

Thompson's seeming interest in a slow, deliberate rollout of a potential new CNN streaming service could help CNN avoid seeing plans overthrown by corporate initiatives. Although CNN's initial efforts to launch a standalone streaming app failed, Thompson argued that exploring a new app is essential, given cable's decline.

It's unclear what, if anything, has changed with CNN's parent company for Thompson to be optimistic about streaming. In February, WBD reported a profitable streaming business for the first time; that includes numbers for Max, Discovery+ (which is still a standalone service), and the linear HBO channel. That could grow confidence in WBD's future as a streaming provider.

In September 2023, WBD launched CNN Max, which streams a 24/7 live channel that differs from what is aired on the CNN cable channel and includes on-demand documentaries. The Max website for the service, which is under the Max umbrella, still describes CNN Max as being in beta, but CNN Max starts at $9.99 per month with ads or $15.99 per month without.

CNN Max differs from CNN+ in that it's part of Max rather than a standalone app. It also costs more (CNN+ debuted at $5.99/month, but who knows what it would cost if it still existed). Live TV on CNN+ also required supported cable subscription credentials.


CNN Max may be giving CNN encouraging streaming signs. The company has already claimed that CNN Max has brought it younger viewers. At this stage, though, CNN hasn't revealed how much interest the service has garnered or why it might benefit from a different CNN streaming platform adding to or replacing CNN Max.

Further, WBD has also shown that it's not opposed to launching new streaming apps. It's currently trying to launch a sports streaming app with Disney and Fox. And under WBD, there are new people in charge of CNN. Thompson wasn't part of CNN+ but was part of The New York Times seeing a tenfold increase in paid subscribers (Thompson also headed BBC before CNN).

But with WBD being $44.2 billion in debt, the future of any CNN streaming service remains up in the air. There are also still battle wounds from the fallout to keep in mind. The rapid shuttering of CNN+ reportedly led to hundreds of layoffs. In 2022, Axios reported that CNN+ was a $300 million investment.

The streaming industry is even more crowded than when CNN+ took its shot, and it could look significantly different in a few years, making it hard to predict how a new streaming service could successfully fit in. There has also reportedly been concern from DirectTV about the fairness of CNN streaming online at all.

Streaming isn't CNN's only potential future play. The company is also looking into growing revenue by expanding viewership on devices like phones, and it has unspecified potential uses of generative AI, Thompson said.