A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“They were trying to make something that I hadn’t seen before.”
That’s part of what appealed to Audie Cornish about CNN+, the news streaming service that launched to great fanfare on Tuesday. Cornish, whose weekly show will debut in May, told the Washington Post that she thinks the mix of live and on-demand shows will fill a need in the marketplace. CNN’s parent company “is going through a great moment of transition,” she noted, alluding to the uncertainty that comes from WarnerMedia’s pending merger with Discovery. “In those moments of transition and upheaval,” she said, “interesting things can happen.”
While subscribers signed up and sent in feedback, CNN+ certainly made some news on day one:
– Chris Wallace launched his nightly program “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” with guest Admiral William H. McRaven. Here’s a clip. Wallace said his goal is “to have conversations, not interviews…”
– On “The Source with Kasie Hunt,” Sen. Mitt Romney labeled some of his GOP colleagues “wingnuts…”
– On “Go There,” Christiane Amanpour went live from Kyiv and explained the city’s stiff resistance to Russia’s assault through a visit with Ukrainian Parliament member Lesia Vasylenko…
– On the inaugural episode of “Reliable Sources Daily,” we connected the first two anchors on CNN in 1980, Lois Hart and Dave Walker, with the first two anchors on CNN+, Kate Bolduan and Sara Sidner…
What I’m learning and unlearning:
In my first week anchoring on CNN+, I’m trying to unlearn two words: “Good morning.” Why? Because a streaming viewer may watch at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, or even at 11 p.m., instead of 11 a.m.
I’m also learning how to segue from one story to another without using a commercial break as a natural buffer, since CNN+ is a subscription service without advertising.
Unlearning old habits and learning new tricks – that’s part of the fun of this new venture. Through rehearsals and discussions, and now real-world feedback from viewers, we’re determining the differences between cable news and streaming news. Some early takeaways:
1) There is lots of room for both: Millions of viewers rely on CNN on cable every day. (In TV-speak, this is the “linear” feed.) CNN+ doesn’t change what’s on the cable channel at all. At the same time, the steady stream (pardon the pun) of emails in my inbox on Tuesday showed ample interest in streaming too, both among cord-cutters and people who have cable but want more.
2) Long or short: Every cable news host knows what it’s like to prematurely end a segment because of a commercial break or other time considerations. But the inverse is also stressful: Having to stretch a boring segment with a weak guest just to fill the allotted time. Streaming is freeing because a show doesn’t have to achieve a certain length “just because.”
3) Less “breaking,” more fixing: Breaking news is one of the reasons why CNN is essential on cable. CNN+ has a dedicated team for special reports and breaking news coverage, as well. But in a streaming app world, a pre-planned show can continue on demand, rather than being “blown out” (to use another TV phrase) by breaking news.
4) Passive versus active: Video viewing is a mixture of both, of course. My impression is that streaming lends itself to more active viewing because people are picking what to watch at any given time. As SVP and head of programming for CNN+ Rebecca Kutler said in an interview with TVNewser’s A.J. Katz, “Maybe you want to catch up on all the Anthony Bourdain [Parts Unknown] episodes, or you want to catch up on Wolf’s newscast from earlier in the day, all of those things are possible because we’re streaming and the subscriber has the choice of when to click on what.”
5) Part of a club: Paying for a subscription service confers a sense of membership. That’s why I shouted out some of the viewers who were watching live and tweeting to me on Tuesday. But I was also aware that the episode might have a bigger audience on demand. Interview Club melds the two: It lets subscribers submit questions for expert guests. It was “built from the ground up, from whiteboard all the way to product,” CNN CTO Robyn Peterson said.
On a personal note, let me just extend a public thank-you to the “Reliable Sources Daily” team that made Tuesday’s launch possible, as seen in a photo from WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar’s Twitter thread about CNN+.
– CNN founder Ted Turner’s message: “As CNN embarks on an important new chapter in its history - I’m both proud and honored to be the first subscriber…”
– TheWrap’s Joe Bel Bruno watched day one in case you didn’t want to. His conclusion? The eight live shows “seemed so cerebral and thoughtful…”
– The first episode of “Jake Tapper’s Book Club” also premiered on Tuesday, featuring a joint sit-down with Dolly Parton and James Patterson. Tapper’s newsletter has recommended reads and a look ahead to future episodes…
– One of the debut original series on CNN+ is definitely of interest to this media newsletter audience: It’s a six-part series titled “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence,” based on Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg’s groundbreaking NYT Magazine project about the Murdoch family…
– To all the newsletter readers outside the United States who emailed me about wanting to sign up: CNN+ launched in the US first but the company does plan to expand to other markets.