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CNN’s New Streaming Service, CNN Plus, Is Already Shutting Down

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On March 29, CNN took a step into the future of media, launching a new streaming service called CNN Plus that aimed to modernize its traditional television business and place a bet on the future of digital news consumption.

But after a slow start, new parent company Warner Bros. Discovery has already decided to shut down the service at the end of April, new CNN chief executive Chris Licht announced in a memo to employees on Thursday afternoon that was obtained by The Washington Post.

CNN Plus had launched with a ton of fanfare, featuring marquee talents like Chris Wallace from Fox News, Kasie Hunt from MSNBC and Audie Cornish from NPR.

However, the network found difficulty convincing enough customers to pay the $5.99 monthly cost for the service, which offers a mixture of live and on-demand programming, including a large library of old shows from hosts like the late Anthony Bourdain. The network has not released any data on the number of people who have subscribed, but early media reports suggested that the number was lower than expected for a service that has cost more than $100 million to create.

Licht, who will officially start as chief executive on CNN early next month, stunned network employees by making the announcement on Thursday.

The service seemed to be in jeopardy almost from the beginning, but particularly after Discovery Inc. formally took control of the CNN brand on April 11. David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, has expressed a desire for the company to have one primary streaming service for consumers to pay for and use, rather than a bevy of services.

Licht said the decision was aligned with the company’s broader strategy for reaching viewers. “In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service, which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings,” he wrote.

He also commended the staff for “building and flawlessly launching CNN+ in a very short period of time” and promised that some of the new programming they developed will move to CNN or the company’s other networks, where news will be “an important part of a compelling broader offering along with sports, entertainment, and nonfiction content.”

Whereas CNN Plus featured a heavy dose of lifestyle programming and cultural conversation, Licht said that CNN will from now on focus on news-gathering and journalism.

As part of the transition, the company announced the departure of Andrew Morse, a veteran CNN digital executive who has served as head of CNN Plus, with Alex MacCallum stepping in to oversee the network’s digital efforts.

CNN had hired hundreds of employees to work on the streaming service, and Licht said in his memo that all CNN Plus employees will receive pay and benefits for the next 90 days. Some employees may be able to get other jobs at the company, while those departing the company will receive a six-month severance he said.

“While today’s decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for the long-term success of CNN,” Licht wrote. “It allows us to refocus resources on the core products that drive our singular focus: further enhancing CNN’s journalism and its reputation as a global news leader.”

CNN employees were given more details about the decision in a town hall meeting hosted on Thursday afternoon. One employee told The Post that Licht took responsibility for the decision and displayed “solid leadership” and saying that the buck stops with him.

Still, it marks a dark first chapter for Licht, who was a celebrated hire for the network after he served as executive producer for Stephen Colbert’s late-night show.

Hunt, in an interview with The Post last month, had said she was excited to get Licht’s advice on her CNN Plus show. “I will be begging him for five minutes of his time to let me know how to make this show better,” she said.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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