CNN+ Streaming Service Is Shutting Down a Month After Launching

CNN is shutting down its streaming service CNN+ about a month after it launched, a sign of its new owners’ lack of faith in the viability of a subscription-based stand-alone news platform.

The decision to pull the plug on CNN+, which was off to an underwhelming start, came less than two weeks after CNN ownership shifted from AT&T Inc. to a newly created company called Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.,

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the result of a merger of the entertainment and news assets of the telecom giant and Discovery.

Addressing CNN employees during an at-times emotional town hall meeting Thursday, CNN Chairman and Chief Executive Chris Licht —who hasn’t even officially assumed his role yet—called the decision to shut down CNN+ so soon after its launch a “uniquely shitty situation ,” according to an attendee. Mr. Licht and others at Warner Bros. Discovery pointed fingers at AT&T and its former entertainment unit WarnerMedia for launching the service on the eve of new management coming in.

“We have to own what happened, even though it’s not a result of what we did,” Mr. Licht said.

The demise of CNN+ shows the unique challenges of building a streaming-news business, which can’t feature a live feed of the TV network or its highest-profile content without running afoul of contractual obligations with pay-TV providers. Instead of offering access to CNN shows like “The Lead with Jake Tapper ” and “Anderson Cooper 360°,” CNN+ featured less newsy fare such as “Jake Tapper’s Book Club” and “Parental Guidance With Anderson Cooper.”

CNN also wooed big-name outside talent for its streaming service, including former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. With backing from former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, CNN’s previous regime spent $300 million on developing CNN+ with plans of investing another $750 million in the next few years, people familiar with the operation said.

Following its March 29 launch, CNN+ attracted fewer than 100,000 subscribers, a person familiar with the operation said, and its $5.99-a-month price was seen as prohibitive by Discovery executives who questioned the viability of the service before the launch.

Some of the content from CNN+ will move to other platforms at parent Warner Bros. Discovery, including CNN, Mr. Licht told employees during the meeting. The HBO Max streaming service is also a potential landing spot for some of that content, he said.

In a memo to staff earlier Thursday, Mr. Licht said the decision to shut down the CNN+ service on April 30 was difficult but necessary.

“It is the right one for the long-term success of CNN,” Mr. Licht said in the memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “It allows us to refocus resources on the core products that drive our singular focus: further enhancing CNN’s journalism and its reputation as a global news leader.”

Thursday’s decision was telegraphed last week by David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, who said at a recent companywide town hall meeting that he would rather have all the content from the sprawling entertainment and news company under one platform rather than launching individually. services for various channels.

As part of the shake-up, Andrew Morse, the CNN executive who oversaw CNN+, is leaving the company. Mr. Morse couldn’t be reached for comment. Mr. Licht said CNN executive Alex MacCallum would oversee CNN’s digital operations. A CNN veteran with previous stints at the New York Times and Washington Post, Ms. MacCallum was most recently general manager of CNN+ and head of product for CNN Worldwide.

Mr. Licht said CNN+ employees would be paid and receive benefits for the next three months and can explore potential jobs elsewhere at the company.

The news of the closing of CNN+ was reported earlier by Variety.

During Thursday’s town hall, JB Perrette, the Discovery executive named CEO of the Warner Bros. Discovery streaming and interactive operations, said the company was unable to dig into CNN+ before it launched because of legal restrictions limiting their access to the planning on the service.

“The prior leadership just kept going,” he said. “It makes it worse for us coming in here.”

An AT&T spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Mr. Kilar didn’t respond to a request for comment. A former senior WarnerMedia executive said Discovery was well-briefed on CNN+ and it raised no red flags.

Because of its relationships with pay-TV distributors, CNN was limited in the amount of live news and content it could put on its CNN+ platform. Without the urgency of breaking news, the site was seen as a tough sell by Discovery executives, a person close to the operation said. The majority of the content was mostly softer fare such as Mr. Wallace’s interview shows, where he often chatted with longtime celebrities such as William Shatner and Joan Collins.

Rival Fox News has had more success in the direct-to-consumer streaming business. Its service Fox Nation has more than one million subscribers, a person familiar with that operation said. But Fox News is also known for a very loyal audience, and the service offers both entertainment fare as well as content from some of its biggest names including Tucker Carlson. Fox News owner Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

Mr. Wallace was the biggest hire for CNN+, lured away from Fox News. There is a possibility his show could migrate to CNN, people familiar with the matter said. Some CNN insiders also think Mr. Wallace could be a candidate to fill the hole in prime time left vacant by the departure of Chris Cuomo last year. A senior Warner Bros. Discovery executive said that was unlikely.

Neither Mr. Wallace nor his agent responded to requests for comment.

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