CNN changed the media landscape when it introduced 1980s audiences to 24-hour cable news. Today, CNN remains one of the biggest players in the space, in part due to being (relatively) less openly partisan than its rivals. However, the media landscape has changed with the advent of video streaming services, and CNN is on board that train. CNN+ brings you everything you enjoy about the expansive news channel, from evergreen documentaries to live broadcasts, in a successful new streaming format.
What Can You Watch on CNN+?
CNN+ boasts more than 1,000 hours of on-demand programming, as well as up to 12 daily and weekly live broadcast shows (the schedule changes depending on the day). It blends a streaming service’s freedom of choice with the live content that you’d expect from a news channel. For good or ill, years of cable news have already expanded our definition of “news.” Fortunately, this gives CNN+ subscribers a surprisingly broad library to enjoy.
You can browse several categories, including Politics, Pop Culture, Food & Travel, Race & Identity, and True Crime. You’ll see familiar pundits like Christiane Amanpour, W. Kamau Bell, Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, Lisa Ling, Jake Tapper, and Fareed Zakaria (but not Chris Cuomo). If you’ve enjoyed CNN’s original documentaries that summed up decades (The Sixties) or traced prominent political families (The Murdochs), you can watch them whenever you want. For something lighter, check out documentaries about popular movies or the history of late night TV. Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown remains the gold standard for food culture shows. The true crime shows, while definitely salacious, feel a bit classier than the exploitative schlock found on Discovery+.
Watching existing CNN shows on demand is enticing enough for news junkies, but CNN+ also has exclusive shows, like Jake Tapper’s Book Club and Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico. In fact, the most exciting exclusive show can only work in an online streaming context. Subscribers can join the Interview Club, and submit questions to various hosts. Potential topics include politics, global affairs, and issues of the day. You then watch a live show to see if your question receives an answer. For example, you can ask Dr. Fauci about the COVID-19 pandemic, ask Van Jones about race, or ask Jemele Hill about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. Even if you missed the live broadcast, you can watch an archived recording and read past questions. This is a nifty feature that adds a welcome sense of community when most big broadcast news channels feel detached from their audiences.
Costs and Platforms
CNN+ has a single tier that costs $6 per month or $60 per year. It’s relatively affordable, and nowhere close to what you’ll pay for some full-on, live TV services. This tier grants access to unlimited, ad-free streaming of CNN+’s on-demand library and exclusive live shows, as well as access to the Interview Club. However, if you also want to watch the CNN, CNN International, or HLN live cable channels, you’ll need to verify your paid cable credentials. Other TV channels, including MSNBC, have the same requirement for their streaming apps, but CNN+ is worthwhile even if you don’t go down this route.
We haven’t encountered many other dedicated, premium news streaming apps, but CNN+ favorably compares to other options. Free services, such as The Roku Channel and Editors’ Choice pick Peacock, offer ad-supported live news channels. HBO Max has a handful of CNN content, since it’s also owned by WarnerMedia, but starts at $10 per month for ad-supported streaming. Editors’ Choice pick Hulu includes some ABC news programming in its $7-per-month base tier, but its complete Live TV tier costs $65 per month. FuboTV, also $65 per month, has live news, but it has a sports focus.
You can watch CNN+ on the web, as well as on Android and iOS devices. On mobile, you don’t need to download a new app. Just log into the existing CNN app, and access the streaming library under the new section. CNN+ has apps for Apple TV and Fire TV, too. Curiously, there’s no Roku app. Currently, you can download CNNgo as a Roku channel, but CNN says that CNN+ will soon replace that legacy service. It reminds us of how HBO Max also had to shut down existing services before finally debuting on the most popular media streaming devices.
CNN+ on the Web and Mobile
CNN+ has a pretty straightforward web layout. One show gets highlighted up top, with live shows receiving special placements, so you don’t miss them. There are dedicated rows for trending shows and shows you’re already watching. Selecting a show lets you watch a trailer, add it to your watchlist, and browse through more episodes where applicable.
The video player supports picture-in-picture, and lets you skip forward and back by ten seconds. Playback was smooth over my home Wi-Fi connection (60Mbps download), with both on-demand shows and live broadcasts. However, you can’t adjust a stream’s video quality. I understand this limitation for live shows, but CNN+ also has many highly produced, professional films, and I would like to see them in the best possible quality. Everything looks pretty sharp, though. Like HBO Max, CNN+ says it automatically adjusts the video quality to suit your network’s bandwidth conditions.
What’s most interesting about CNN+ on mobile is that it’s part of the overall CNN mobile app, not a separate download. So, you can quickly go from watching CNN+ shows to reading CNN articles and listening to CNN audio. I simultaneously ran CNN+ on four devices, and didn’t encounter any streaming limits. Unfortunately, you can’t download CNN+ shows for offline mobile viewing.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
Despite having an exclusive show where Anderson Cooper learns about parenting, CNN+ lacks parental controls. Maybe the company isn’t concerned that children will watch content that would bore them. The most explicitly kid-friendly show I found was a sesame street specially designed to help parents talk to their children about racism.
You can turn on subtitles and adjust options, such as font color and background opacity. You can also adjust playback speed if slowing a video down makes it easier to understand. We’d like to see some additional language options and audio descriptions, since news should aim to inform as many people as possible.
CNN+ and VPN
Here’s some important news, nothing keeps you safer online than a VPN. These cybersecurity tools spoof your online location for maximum digital privacy. The problem is, streaming services like to know exactly where their views are to tailor their libraries for regional licensing deals.
I tested CNN+ with a Windows PC connected to ProtonVPN servers. I could stream while connected to the VPN’s US-based servers, but switching to another country kicked me out. That’s not surprising considering that CNN treats CNN International as a separate entity that you select when creating an account. If you’re determined to make VPNs and streaming services play nice, check out the best VPNs for video streaming.
Cable News Network Meets Streaming
CNN+ is an affordable, convenient way to stream CNN’s live broadcasts and in-depth original reporting. The service’s varied topics and interactive community features add to its appeal as a standalone service that differentiates itself from the cable programming.
Our Editors’ Choice picks Peacock, Hulu, and Netflix read more toward general entertainment than CNN-style news. For more alternatives, consider KweliTV’s international library, or the educational content you’ll find on a top documentary streaming service.
For more on streaming, check out five reasons why you may want to ditch your video subscription and keep cable. In addition, you should read how streaming has ushered in a new trash TV golden age. Finally, check out our recommended streaming video guides if you don’t know what to watch.
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