May 15, 2022

THERE’S A ZUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE: Inside the Collapse of CNN+, The News Channel’s ‘Apollo Mission:’ Hundreds of staffers were drawn to the streaming venture, positioned as network’s future; $5.99-a-month service lasted one month.

For the more than 400 workers involved, it’s also the story of the dashed hopes of those caught up in a startup’s woes. CNN+’s rise and fall speaks to the risks people are willing to take to be on the ground floor of something big, especially in a legacy media industry that is searching for a future-proof business model.

Interviews with more than a dozen people involved in CNN+ describe a culture where excitement over what one top producer described as CNN’s “Apollo Mission”—a reference to the program that successfully landed the first humans on the moon—gave way to the realization that failure was arriving swiftly and mercilessly. Many employees of the streaming service started in the past six months or even just a few weeks before the service launched. Several said they left stable jobs or freelancing gigs.

It’s a ridiculous analogy: Apollo was built on sound engineering principles throughout — the numbers to make CNN+ feasible simply weren’t ever there:

Now, help me with the math. CNN, a network whose most popular show pulls in around one million viewers a night, was going to convince two million people to pay for supplemental programming — and 15 million people to do so within four years?

To put that in perspective, per Charles Cooke, NFL Sunday Ticket has two million subscribers. Granted, Sunday Ticket costs much, much more than a CNN+ subscription does, but the NFL fan base is much, much, much larger and more enthusiastic than CNN’s. And still: “Only” two million subscribe. So where did CNN get its target numbers from?

Care to guess how many viewers per day CNN+ is actually averaging lately? According to sources who spoke to CNBC, it’s … just 10,000.

As Daniel Greenfield of Frontpage Mag predicted in December:

CNN is far behind FOX News and MSNBC in the ratings. It averages around half a million viewers in prime time and it recently hit a 7-year low in the demo.

So it was the perfect time for Chris Wallace to leave FOX News for CNN+.

Some might have thought that Wallace was leaving to fill Chris Cuomo’s slot at CNN. No such luck, though without Cuomo the failing news network’s ratings have crashed to new lows.

But crashing to new lows is the default story at CNN.

CNN Airport, its captive audience operation, shut down earlier this year. And CNN isn’t far behind. CNN+ is the network’s bet that enough people will pay 6 bucks a month to watch it.

CNN’s effort to launch CNN+, a paid streaming service, at a time when its core ratings are crashing is confusing observers who wonder why the news network thinks people will pay for CNN when they won’t even watch it for free.

CNN President Jeff Zucker billed CNN+ as being for “CNN superfans, news junkies and fans of quality non-fiction programming.”

The existence of CNN superfans is as improbable as Bigfoot and UFOs. No one has ever spotted a CNN superfan in the wild and not even the most exotic zoos have them in stock.

Once Jeff Zucker was resigned/was pushed out in early February, the clock was ticking on CNN+. I wonder how Chris Wallace enjoyed his role as a would-be Apollo astronaut?

UPDATE: CNN+ folded so quickly that some staffers actually received welcome packages after the network pulled the plug on it.

(Updated and bumped.)

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