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What the shutdown of CNN+ might indicate about the future of streaming TV


CNN+ is shutting down on April 30. That's just over one month after it started. The streaming service launched with a slate of well-known journalists hired to lead original shows, including former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, former MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt and our former colleague Audie Cornish. Here to discuss why the service is shutting down and what it might mean for streaming TV in general is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.


ESTRIN: So I understand one reason why CNN+ is going away this quickly is that it was developed by one company but shut down by a slightly different company. What's that about?

DEGGANS: Sure (laughter) I can explain it. So CNN+ was developed by CNN's former parent company, WarnerMedia, and CNN's former president, Jeff Zucker. Now, they spent many millions and lots of time developing the service, which was positioned as the next great evolution for CNN. But Zucker resigned his job at CNN in February after admitting that he had failed to disclose a personal relationship with another senior CNN employee. Earlier this month, WarnerMedia officially merged with Discovery to become a new company called Warner Bros. Discovery.

And this new company features new leadership that apparently didn't support CNN+. They want all the company's brands, including HBO, TNT and the Discovery Channel, on the same streaming platform. And as the merger was finalized, there were rumors that this new leadership wasn't enthusiastic about CNN+. But I think industry watchers were still surprised that they shut it down so quickly.

ESTRIN: Yeah, it is a surprise. And CNN+, you know, also hired a lot of new people to create original programming. So do we know what's going to happen to those people or their shows?

DEGGANS: Well, so far, I haven't heard anything about what will happen to specific shows or stars. I mean, the shutdown happened so quickly that the program that was supposed to be hosted by our former colleague, Audie Cornish, hadn't even really debuted yet. CNN's new president, Chris Licht, he's a former executive producer of "CBS This Morning" and "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." He sent out a memo to staffers earlier today saying some programming will migrate to CNN and the company's other networks. But still, it is possible hundreds of employees might lose their jobs. Andrew Morse, CNN's chief digital officer and the head of CNN+, has already announced he's leaving. Now, CNN is also reporting that current CNN+ customers will get prorated refunds for their subscription fees.

ESTRIN: OK. Now, all this comes just one day after Netflix saw its stock price fall 35%. It's lost 200,000 subscribers in its first quarter. Does the end of CNN+ mean that there's a deeper problem in streaming TV?

DEGGANS: It's wild. Even Quibi lasted, you know, several months.


DEGGANS: I think this indicates that even big media companies are taking a close look at their streaming strategies and the competition for subscribers. They're making sure they have a unified strategy. And it seemed that the former management of CNN and WarnerMedia tried to get CNN+ launched before the new leaders could have any input. And that was always risky. In fact, Licht's memo complimented staffers for, quote, "flawlessly launching" CNN+ but also noted the change allowed them to focus on, quote, "further enhancing CNN's journalism." So we're hearing rumors that Licht and the new leadership are interested in more news-driven, less opinion-oriented coverage. So the question remains whether further changes are coming at CNN.

ESTRIN: And we'll stay tuned. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thank you, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.