CNN to Move Hit Shows to Its New App in Bet on Star Power
(Bloomberg) -- CNN plans to pull its original series off HBO Max and put the programming on its own streaming service as the cable news channel prepares to launch CNN+ next year.
The programs that will likely move include popular food shows starring Anthony Bourdain and Stanley Tucci and other CNN original series and documentaries, according to a person familiar with the matter. CNN no longer plans to produce shows for HBO Max, which is owned by the same parent company, AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia.
CNN’s strategy began to take shape this week when it announced that two high-profile stars from news and entertainment, Chris Wallace and Eva Longoria, will make shows for CNN+.
Wallace, a veteran journalist who spent 18 years at Fox News, will have a weekday show on CNN+ in which he will interview figures across politics, business, sports and culture. Reports of his hiring likely put CNN+ on many people’s radar for the first time, said Jon Klein, a former president of CNN’s U.S. network.
“It’s a great way to let a new audience know that CNN+ exists and they’re serious about putting out a quality product,” Klein said.
CNN+ is considering charging $5.99 a month and is aiming to launch in March, according to a person familiar with the matter. That would be the same price as Fox Nation, the streaming service from Fox News.
The service would debut just a few months before CNN’s parent is expected to combine with Discovery Inc. How the deal might impact the future of CNN+ remains murky. Among other assets, Discovery owns the Food Network, which could conflict with the culinary-based programming slated for CNN+.
CNN+ will arrive in a market already crowded with free streaming news services, including ones from broadcasters like CBS.
“I have my doubts about audiences paying for streaming news,” Tom Jones, a senior media writer for Poynter, wrote about CNN+ this week.
WarnerMedia executives have been weighing whether to sell CNN+ and HBO Max combined at a discounted price, the person said. Walt Disney Co. has found success with a similar strategy, bundling subscriptions to Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
Meanwhile, CNN+ has been hiring prominent TV journalists, such as Wallace and former NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt. Several CNN stars, including Anderson Cooper, Van Jones and Don Lemon, will likely have shows on CNN+, according to people familiar with the matter.
CNN+ is also developing panel shows similar in format to Fox News’s “The Five,” people familiar said. It will have 8 to 12 hours of live programming each day.
As CNN prepares to launch its new streaming service, its cable channel remains in third place in the cable news ratings battle, showing steeper declines this year than Fox News and MSNBC.
CNN has also faced scrutiny over its handling of Chris Cuomo. CNN fired the show host earlier this month amid a probe into his conduct in gathering information about sexual-harassment accusations against his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The network’s streaming service will focus on live programming and original series. It will also feature an interactive component that could involve hosts responding to questions from viewers through the app.
CNN’s market research has found that CNN+ could draw a large audience by targeting the news network’s “super fans,” documentary lovers and subscribers to newspapers and magazines who would also pay for a video-based news service, one person said.
Broadcast and cable news channels are all taking slightly different approaches to streaming. Three years ago, Fox News launched Fox Nation, which is aimed at its conservative audience with documentaries by Tucker Carlson and shows about crime, religion and history. CBS News has a free, 24-hour streaming service. ABC News has a free streaming service, but its stars, such as George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, are also creating long-form programs for Hulu, which shares the same corporate owner. NBC News and MSNBC make shows for both Peacock and NBC News Now.
WarnerMedia is in talks with streaming devices and internet providers to distribute CNN+. Reaching those deals will be crucial, since accessibility on big platforms like Roku and Amazon Fire TV is typically crucial to driving the growth of a new app.
CNN will announce more new shows for CNN+ in the new year and plans to promote the app heavily during its upcoming New Year’s Eve broadcast special.
CNN has asked production companies to develop docuseries on food and history for CNN+. Some show budgets are in the “high six figures” per episode, the people said. CNN is hoping to recreate some of the success it has found with “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” a series in which the actor travels the country and samples its regional cuisines.
CNN said Wednesday that Longoria will star in a six-part series, “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico,” which will follow her through the country as she explores “one of the most popular, and arguably misunderstood, global cuisines.”
“They’re making some intelligent bets on recognizable personalities,” said Klein. “I think it can be hugely successful.”
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