CNN+ needs a Jennifer Aniston moment to save it from Quibi’s fate

Jennifer Aniston delivers a powerful monologue on UBA+ on “The Morning Show”
Jennifer Aniston delivers a powerful monologue on UBA+ on “The Morning Show”
Image: Apple
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CNN+ appears to be failing in its mission to draw 2 million subscribers in its first year, with just 10,000 daily viewers, and around 100,000 (paywall) overall subscribers. Those numbers would also put the streaming product far behind its goal of securing 15-18 million subscribers over the next four years. 

The slow start, which is even more stark given the roughly $300 million invested in the service, has led to speculation that investment in and subscriber projections for CNN+ may be dramatically cut in the coming months. However, there’s still a chance for a turnaround as new CNN chief Chris Licht moves into Jeff Zucker’s old position in May. 

But so far, CNN+ has begun to inspire references to the short-lived Quibi service, which was criticized as offering fairly uninspiring content in a new format that audiences weren’t particularly clamoring for.

Apple TV+ foreshadowed the perils of CNN+ on one of its hit shows  

The lukewarm response to CNN+ from viewers and media professionals alike seems to be primarily driven by a relatively uninspired slate of programming. While other “plus” services like Disney+ and Apple TV+ debut award-winning original series and films, and offer deep back catalogs, CNN+ appears to be offering much of the same kind of content—mini-documentaries, interviews, news broadcasts—viewers can get from the normal version of CNN. 

CNN’s “plus” move brings to mind the cynically-crafted fictional UBA+ service on The Morning Show, the hit Apple TV+ series about the internal workings of a fictional media giant. In the latest season of the show, network star Alex Levy (played by Jennifer Aniston) saves the ill-conceived UBA+ service by delivering a bracing come-to-Jesus moment on-air while suffering through a bout of covid-19. The broadcast turns the subscription service into a must-watch, and the Zucker/Licht-esque network boss behind the service, played by Billy Crudup, looks on approvingly as Aniston saves the day. 

Things may not be that simple for the real world of CNN+, but the network could derive some inspiration from the scripted story arc. If CNN+ insists on rolling out the same hosts as it does on CNN, then those personalities will need to be allowed to stretch beyond their normal confines in order to draw audiences to the paid service.

CNN+ still has time to save itself from becoming a cautionary media tale

Instead of re-packaged episodes of the now-defunct Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, as well as the same anchor and guest analyst faces seen on CNN, the streaming service may need to aggressively differentiate itself from its mothership via new on-air talent and fresh ideas that harness its newsgathering pedigree.

As a growing list of streaming brands attempt to secure $10-$15 per month of viewers’ streaming budgets, CNN+, for an additional $60 per year, simply isn’t delivering enough. Convincing consumers to pay for a very slightly different version of the regular CNN broadcast slate will require more.