In a 1991 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett articulated a sea change in the media landscape that was undergirding his investment thesis—a transition from the halcyon days of a few high-margin cable fiefdoms to an increasingly fragmented news and entertainment ecosystem, one in which “500 million American eyeballs and a 24-hour day are all that’s available.”
On some level, Buffett’s observation reflected the impact of Ted Turner’s then decade-old Cable News Network, which rewired audiences’ expectations about news consumption. For generations, most people read a newspaper in the morning, maybe tuned out some radio during their drive to work, and then checked back in with Brokaw or Jennings or Rather in the evening. CNN changed all that, as Buffett presciently noted.
These days, as media endures the latest sea change to streaming, competition is in overdrive, margins are thinning, costs are unbalanced, and even the most hegemonic companies are desperately searching for creative ways to differentiate from the slush pile. And CNN, which aborted its $300 million+ streaming pure play a year ago, is once again trying to revamp itself for a brave new world. Last week, my Puck partner Dylan Byers reported that Warner Discovery is planning to launch CNN on its Max streaming platform, including live simulcasts of primetime shows—Tapper! Blitzer! Anderson!—that have only been available on Pay TV.