On Monday evening, Andrew Morse, the executive in charge of CNN+, offered some remarks at a launch party in Hudson Yards attended by top talent from the network and its about-to-debut streaming product. It was a refreshing moment amid a bewildering season beset by Omicron, Cuomo, Zucker, and a clandestine search for his successor, which ultimately led to the hiring of Chris Licht. Morse, who had been considered a contender for the top job on CNN’s greasy pole, did not betray any signs of frustration, angst, or even anxiety. Instead, he sounded like the model low-key, HBR-imbibing leader of the David Zaslav era. “This is the right time to launch CNN+,” Morse said. “We know the media landscape is changing quickly, and so is the way people are consuming news. In order for us to ensure our journalism remains as essential to the world for the next 42 years as it’s been for the last, we must always continue to push ourselves and to innovate.”
CNN+, as Morse plainly noted, is being launched to ensure the long-term relevance of the brand’s journalism. And that testament, perhaps inadvertently, gets to the heart of the matter: news channels are building streaming services these days out of sheer necessity, just like magazines and newspapers built websites 25-30 years ago. The day will come when all of these channels need to make their core offering available via streaming, and the linear product will wither. They can’t do that yet because of the economics of linear, so they’re building placeholders in the meantime. Indeed, similar to the transformations of the music and print industry decades earlier, news brands must convince their employees, and audiences, that the real action is on their streaming service, not their cable channel—and to do so probably before that’s actually legitimately true. The brands that carefully execute this sleight of hand trick should be rewarded handsomely. Those who don’t will end up with an expensive version of Cheddar.
CNN came to the party late, but it came smart. Most existing streaming news services are either minor-league versions of the linear product or additive, B-side style bonus material—either way, they often leave consumers feeling like they’re watching something other than the main event. CNN+ has plenty of this filler, too, but it’s also got a healthy slate of new and unique lifestyle programming that, coupled with CNN’s unparalleled global newsgathering and competitive domestic coverage, might justify the $6-per-month price tag.