The company said CNN+ customers “will receive pro-rata refunds of subscription fees.”
The decision was made by the new management after CNN’s former parent company, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery to form Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this month.
The vision of the previous CNN+ management team goes against Warner Bros. CEO’s plan. Discovery, David Zaslav, to house all of the company’s brands under one streaming service. Some CNN+ programs may eventually continue through that service. Other programs will shift to CNN’s main television network.
“In a complex broadcast market, consumers want simplicity, a comprehensive service that delivers a better experience and greater value than standalone offerings, and for the company, a more sustainable business model to drive our future investments in great journalism,” JP Perrett, Discovery’s head of live broadcasting, said in a statement.
“We have very exciting opportunities ahead in the live broadcast space, and CNN, one of the world’s most important reputable assets, will play an important role there,” Perrett added.
Perrett and new CNN CEO Chris Licht notified employees of the decision at a meeting Thursday afternoon. Licht frankly told staff it was a “uniquely strange situation”.
Hundreds of CNN+ employees could lose their jobs. “All CNN+ employees will continue to be paid and receive benefits for the next 90 days to explore opportunities at CNN, CNN Digital, and elsewhere in the Warner Bros. Discovery family,” Licht said in an internal memo.
He added that employees who have not been absorbed elsewhere in the company will receive at least six months of termination of service.
An agent for a CNN+ host, which is set to host a weekly show on the streaming service, described their clients’ network program as facing an uncertain future. “Everything is decided later,” the person said.
But the agent added that the network had made every effort to make it clear that it was committed to finding roles for CNN+ hosts.
“This was an incredibly successful launch,” Licht said in a town hall-style meeting with employees, but simply not in line with the newly merged company’s plans.
“It’s not your fault that you pulled the rug out from under you,” he said, also vowing to minimize the impacts on employees.
A CNN+ employee at City Hall described the feeling as “complete and utter shock” that turned into despair.
“At first people were really terrified,” explained the person, who asked not to be identified to describe the situation frankly. “And then, at the end of the meeting, it turned sad. Every team was huddled together.”
During City Hall, Perrett expressed frustration with the “previous leadership” of CNN, which was led by Jeff Zucker until February, and WarnerMedia, which was led by Jason Keeler until early April.
“Some of this could have been avoided,” he said, but “the previous leadership decided to continue” with the planned launch of CNN+ in March despite the impending merger.
The streaming service ended up running just two weeks before the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger was completed, much to the chagrin of Discovery’s leadership, which had a different strategy but could not legally communicate with CNN executives before the deal became official.
at Warner Bros. Discovery is in billions of dollars in debt, much of it stemming from the company’s merger deal, and executives are under pressure to find the $3 billion in savings Wall Street expects of them.
The executive vice president responsible for CNN+ and all of CNN’s digital businesses, Andrew Morse, who has worked closely with Kilar and Zucker, will leave the company after a transition period.
In a note to employees, Morse described his nine years at CNN as a “fantastic journey” and said, “As the company enters an exciting period of change, it’s clear that the vision the new leadership has for the future is different from the one we’ve been given. It’s okay, that’s part of change.”
Licht said at Town Hall that he wanted Morse to stay, but respected the decision.
In a press release, the company said Alex MacCallum, chief product and general manager of CNN+, will lead CNN Digital and work with Licht “to define a leadership strategy going forward.”
On Thursday afternoon, CNN+ employees residing on the 16th floor of Hudson Yards, the network’s headquarters in New York, sipped whiskey and wine for networking.
The decision to shut down CNN+ just weeks after its launch marked a dizzying end to the streaming news service. Executives have described the app as the most significant launch since Ted Turner founded CNN in 1980.
CNN has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the new streaming app and attracted top talent from other networks to it, including NBC’s Kasie Hunt and Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
The streaming service featured hours of daily live programming and weekly shows.
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