With CNN+ gone, let’s not forget that CNN already has a significant digital asset

Photo (cc) 2009 by Bruno Pinheiro

I know we’ve all moved on to Elon Musk, whose successful bid for Twitter I’m still processing. But I want to make one final point about CNN+, the streaming service that was shut down by CNN’s new owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, just a few weeks after its launch.

CNN already has a significant online asset — CNN Digital. According to Comscore, CNN.com and its apps attracted 143 million unique visitors a month in 2021, putting CNN Digital way ahead of The New York Times (89 million), FoxNews.com and NBCNews.com (about 87 million each) and The Washington Post (82 million). It’s not aimed at cord-cutters, which is a crowd that CNN needs to address at some point. But neither was CNN+.

You can watch CNN TV’s livestream on CNN Digital if you authenticate with your cable subscription. If you don’t have cable, you’re out of luck. But that was true of CNN+, too. No doubt CNN’s contracts with the cable companies forbade them from offering the livestream to CNN+ subscribers, but that meant they were expecting you to pay a monthly fee for CNN’s B-product while reserving the A-product for cable customers.

Like CNN+, CNN Digital offers a lot of extras, including news stories and video clips. It’s really an excellent product, and it’s free. Indeed, with USA Today moving much of its coverage behind a paywall, CNN Digital, along with NPR and the “PBS NewsHour,” is one of the last sources of good-quality free news.

Jeff Zucker’s folly comes to an end as Discovery pulls the plug on CNN+

Imagine a newspaper that required you to be a paid subscriber to the print edition if you wanted to read the paper online, and that you had to pay an additional fee for that privilege. If you weren’t a print subscriber, you wouldn’t be able to read the paper on the website, even though you were paying for digital. The only online content you’d be able to access would be repurposed programs and lite features. Needless to say, no one would sign up for such a terrible service.

Well, that’s exactly what CNN+ is. Or was. The New York Times reports that the network’s incoming owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, has pulled the plug on the weeks-old service. I’m surprised. I thought this would drag on for at least a few months. But I guess the decision was made to close it immediately rather than wait for the inevitable.

Cord-cutting is real, and CNN — like all content providers dependent on cable — needs to find a way to respond. This wasn’t it. Nice going, Jeff Zucker. I’m sure Discovery isn’t going to give up on coming up with a post-cable strategy for CNN. Wiping the slate clean was necessary for that.

One positive development coming out of this fiasco is that the new owners are reportedly planning to slot an actual newscast at 9 p.m., the old Chris Cuomo hour, according to Sara Fischer of Axios. Perhaps the anchor will be Audie Cornish, lured away from NPR to be a key part of CNN+.