CNN is not new to digital. Its first iOS offering dates back to 2014. Things have changed a lot since then, though. Today, the market is overflowing with more than 600 streaming services and mobile apps from news and entertainment brands of all kinds. However, the company views its latest digital play as the most important step since Ted Turner launched CNN in 1980. With CNN+, the company is betting on an enhanced, interactive product that offers a truly premium digital experience.
As Robyn Peterson, CNN’s Chief Technology Officer, described the opportunity to me, “The New York Times has cornered the market in subscription text news. There is a white space in video news and there is not a video news subscription service of the caliber of CNN+. CNN is the only news organization with the resources, global credibility, and experience in video storytelling to offer a compelling product worth paying for.”
At launch, CNN+ offers an impressive slate of original and exclusive programming. They’ve dedicated roughly $100 million in development and a team of 500 staffers to the product, an investment that the company believes will set it apart from rivals, and compel free viewers to pay $5.99 a month for the enhanced offering.
In addition to the daily live shows CNN viewers already know and love, CNN+ adds the news brands’ first interactive streaming programming. For example, “Interview Club” is a service it’s counting on to “give subscribers access to newsmakers like never before.” This offering invites subscribers to submit questions from their computer, tablet or mobile device live or in advance of daily scheduled interviews between CNN’s journalists and newsmakers
“Interview Club fundamentally transforms what it means to become part of the story,” Courtney Coupe, Senior Vice President of Content Strategy and Operations for CNN+, said in a press statement. “Weaving this crucial element of interactivity into the core of CNN+ sets it profoundly apart from anything else that exists in the streaming marketplace.”
Historic depth and cultural relevance
Another attraction (and a first for news streaming apps) is exclusive on-demand access to more than a thousand hours from the library of CNN Original Series, CNN Films, and CNN Special Reports. This positions CNN+ to be a one-stop destination to access Emmy Award-winning titles and 40 years of history as told by CNN.
But CNN+ isn’t just opening the archives. Another selling point is the production of Pop Docs. These premium documentary specials, focused on pop culture stories, are more than an attempt to tap into our collective Zeitgeist. They are a part of the eclectic content arsenal CNN+ is counting on to expand its audience beyond die-hard news fans (the median age of a CNN viewer hovers around 64) and engage cord-cutting Millennials.
“With CNN+, we are expanding the reach and scope of the CNN brand and delivering additive content to our fans,” Peterson explains. “Offering content exclusive to CNN+ gives them something valuable worthy of pay.” The focus, he adds, is “global news highlighting our global resources around the world.”
The monthly subscription package is priced at $5.99 (the same amount Fox News charges for Fox Nation, which launched in 2018). CNN+ is also offering early subscribers access to the “Deal of a Lifetime,” or 50% off the monthly plan – as long as they remain subscribers.
CNN+ is also revamping its mobile app to remove friction and fuel subscriber numbers. Currently, CNN+ is not a standalone app. It is integrated into the primary CNN app (launched in 2008). It appears as a plus sign that features prominently in the bottom navigation bar to allow easy navigation between platforms.
“The CNN+ logo and experience is also prominently featured on top of the CNN.com homepage for users to access the new streaming platform from CNN.com,” Peterson explains. While a user interface that is essentially a tab on a newly updated CNN app means more clicks, there are advantages to providing subscribers CNN+ and TVE (TV Everywhere) access. “We are working to make this the best experience for our customers, and part of that is featuring all CNN content within one CNN app so we can limit any potential customer confusion.”
This and other perks pave the way for CNN+ to achieve what Andrew Morse, Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of CNN Worldwide and Head of CNN+, has called a “very ambitious but achievable subscriber target.” While Morse doesn’t disclose the exact figure, he has hinted that a bundled offering with HBO Max and Discovery Plus is on the roadmap. The $43-billion combination of Discovery with AT&T’s WarnerMedia will undoubtedly result in a plethora of assets and bundles. The question is: Will audiences pay for it?
It’s tricky to call, particularly when the Corona bump that marked a surge in audience interest in subscription streaming services is ebbing. While the streaming market continues to grow, the pace of that growth has slowed significantly. Last quarterly earnings from most streaming service providers fell short of expectations, and Netflix even reported its lowest year of subscriber growth since 2015.
With CNN+, CNN is making an ambitious premium play in a crowded market. However, its investment in new interactive offerings, as well as the decision to offer a deep archive may put it in a class of its own in a sea of streaming apps.