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The demise of CNN+ is a missed opportunity for the future of video news

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An advertisement for CNN+ is displayed in Manhattan on April 21, 2022 in New York City.

CNN pulled the plug on its new streaming operation, CNN+. That's deprived the news industry of an opportunity to see what streamed television news could look like. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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The decline in paid Netflix subscriptions — and the prediction of an even bigger drop going forward — wasn’t the only bad news in the streaming video business this week.

On Thursday, CNN announced it was pulling the plug on CNN+, the streaming platform it launched less than a month ago. That’s deprived the cable news pioneer — and the TV news industry as a whole — of the opportunity to figure out what the future of television news might look like.

This week, futurist Amy Webb felt like she’d been transported back to 1996. “This moment in time reminds me a little bit of the early days of the internet, when newspapers grappled with whether or not to erect a paywall,” she said.

Webb, who leads the Future Today Institute, said television news now finds itself in the same boat, transitioning from audiences raised on cable to audiences raised on TikTok. 

“Gen Z, Gen Alpha, they have vastly different expectations for media, and what constitutes news for them is unrecognized by the people who are making these new news apps,” Webb said.

CNN+ offered a chance to figure out what that audience wants. 

“I’m a proponent of the spaghetti theory of programming. You know, throw enough against the wall and some percentage of it will stick,” said Brian Wieser of GroupM, which buys advertising time for its clients from media companies including CNN. “So you don’t really know exactly what would have stuck in the case of CNN+.”

Some other media companies are experimenting. ABC News, for example, is streaming coverage that doesn’t make it on the air. 

Streaming elsewhere is working, according to Jessica Reif Ehrlich, senior media and entertainment analyst at Bank of America.

“Discovery+ launched last year, and they are one of the strongest news organizations in areas like Poland,” she said.

What isn’t likely to work is just replicating the same kind of content that’s on cable. News organizations have to ask some pretty fundamental questions, said Mike Ananny, a professor of communication and journalism at the University of Southern California.

“What does it mean for news to circulate and travel on Twitter, versus on Facebook, versus Snapchat, versus TikTok? Every new platform that comes along, news organizations have to figure out what it means to translate their work into the language of those platforms,” he said.

And they have to translate it into the language of future platforms that we can’t even imagine right now. 

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