Updated Apr 21, 2022 - Economy

Warner Bros. Discovery is shutting down CNN+

Andrew Morse gives remarks onstage during the CNN+ Launch Event at PEAK NYC Hudson Yards on March 28, 2022 in New York City

Andrew Morse gives remarks onstage during the CNN+ Launch Event on March 28 in New York City. Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images for CNN+

Warner Bros. Discovery, the newly-combined company that includes CNN parent WarnerMedia and Discovery, is shutting down CNN+, sources familiar with the matter tell Axios. The subscription streaming service will cease operations on April 30.

Why it matters: CNN+ launched just a few weeks ago with a $300 million investment. It's being shuttered due to a strategic misalignment between Discovery executives and CNN executives.

Details: Andrew Morse, the head of CNN+ and head of digital at CNN, will be leaving the company. Alex MacCallum, head of product and general manager, will replace Morse as head of digital.

  • According to an internal memo obtained by Axios, incoming CNN head Chris Licht said, "In a complex streaming market, consumers want simplicity and an all-in service, which provides a better experience and more value than stand-alone offerings."
  • Sources say Licht, who starts officially on May 2, handled the situation professionally and with empathy.
  • Many other senior executives from CNN are expected to leave the company in coming weeks.
  • Employees of CNN+ will continue to get paid and receive benefits for 90 days after the service shuts down. If they cannot find work within Warner Bros. Discovery within that timeframe, they will receive at least six-months severance, per the company's internal memo.

The big picture: The service was shut down because CNN and its new parent disagreed over whether the investment made sense long-term.

  • CNN's original plan was for CNN+ to become profitable in four years by investing $1 billion into the service. A profitable service would've diversified CNN's revenue long-term around a digital asset outside of its website, increasing its valuation and potential, executives believe.
  • But Discovery thought a separate subscription app for news didn't make sense for its own strategy long-term, and worried about the business economics around the launch. CNN had already spent $300 million to launch the service.

Catch up fast: CNN+ launched on March 29, just days before its parent company, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery.

  • Discovery executives were frustrated that the service launched to begin with, as Axios has previously reported.
  • If CNN held off launching CNN+ until after the merger, it would have been easier to pivot the company's efforts towards something better aligned with Discovery's goals.

Inside CNN, executives saw the launch as a success. As of Tuesday, CNN+ had roughly 150,000 subscribers.

What to watch: Sources say Warner Bros. Discovery is considering adding CNN+ programming to CNN's existing app, which is free and ad-supported.

  • Other content could eventually be rolled up into HBO Max, the general entertainment service from WarnerMedia that eventually Warner Bros. Discovery plans to bundle with discovery+.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.

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