You might call it CNN Headline News — for the streaming era.
Warner Bros. Discovery plans to unveil a 24/7 live-streamed news service called “CNN Max” on September 27, and indicated the outlet would focus initially on breaking news. Anchors including Jim Acosta, Rahel Solomon, Amara Walker, Fredricka Whitfield and Jim Sciutto have been given assignments, with Sciutto set to lead breaking news in the afternoons. Bianna Golodryga and Christiane Amanpour could also have roles, according to a person familiar with the situation.
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CNN has fallen far behind its rivals when it comes to streaming, with Warner scuttling a nascent subscription-based streaming outlet, CNN+, last year. As the company recalibrated CNN’s strategy, however, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, ABC News and CBS News have all had opportunities to establish new programming for the broadband set, and to experiment while refining their brands in the space. CNN is in some ways starting to run after its competitors have done a few laps on the track. .
The company feels CNN still has time to fulfill its digital destiny. “This is a game that is still very much to be played,” says JB Perrette, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s streaming operations, during an interview. “Nobody has figured it out yet,” he says of the streaming-news business.
Others might dispute that notion. CNN’s most sizable rival, NBC News, has launched and expanded a live-streamed ad-supported service called NBC News Now, which is also used to fill the daytime schedules of some of the company’s affiliates. The company has also developed streaming products for “Today” and “Dateline,” streams its morning cable-news programs “Morning Joe” and “Squawk Box” live, and operates a separate streaming venue for MSNBC. Fox News has cultivated an audience for its subscription-based Fox Nation that is interested in topics other than politics, including real estate, true crime and comedy. CBS News, which got into streaming in 2014, has dispatched John Dickerson, Norah O’Donnell and its Washington bureau team to host bespoke programs there.
The edge for Max, says Perrette, is using live CNN programming. Some will be produced for Max audiences exclusively and some will come from the linear CNN cable network itself. Max subscribers will, for example, be able to watch “Anderson Cooper 360,” “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” “Amanpour” and “The Lead with Jake Tapper” live — even as they air on CNN.
“If you are going to do a 24/7 news channel, it has to deliver on that promise,” says Perrette. And, he says, it ought to use some of the news organization’s best known talent, which he doesn’t feel CNN’s rivals make best use of. “We are going to do it with the Yankees, not the triple-A ball team.”
Warner Bros. Discovery will still have to tread carefully. CNN’s cable and satellite distributors typically expect to get first crack at the programming CNN devises. It’s an issue that rivals like MSNBC and Fox News Channel have already had to navigate. The Fox Nation streaming outlet runs Fox News Channel’s opinion programs a day later. Fox News in 2020 unveiled a new international service that puts its programs in countries such as Mexico and Spain. MSBNC in March of last year unveiled a plan to offer episodes of “Morning Joe,” “Deadline: White House,” “The Beat with Ari Melber,” “The ReidOut,” “All In with Chris Hayes” and MSNBC’s opinion programs on the Peacock streaming hub on-demand the day after they air on cable.
The audiences for CNN on cable and CNN on streaming are distinct, says Perrette, and represent “two different audience segments.” A Max user may be, on average, 30 years younger than the typical CNN viewer, he says. “We believe this is additive, and reaches an audience that the current pay-TV marketplace does not reach.”
Still, in some cases, CNN may have two production teams at work on the same cycle of breaking news — one for CNN linear and one for the original “Newsroom” programs on Max. CNN has done something similar over its long history. At one point. it operated both the flagship cable network, which became more heavily focused on politics and national affairs, and the sister outlet CNN Headline News, which offered a quick trip through the general news of the day. Now known as HLN, that cable network’s ambitions have been scaled back substantially, and the outlet mostly serves as a place for a schedule filled with airing of “Forensic Files.”
Key to the new digital outlet may be use of the “CNN Newsroom” name for shows anchored by the aforementioned journalists. CNN no longer uses the “Newsroom” title for its weekday programming, the bulk of which was once produced under that moniker. Instead, the bulk of the network’s daytime hours are called “News Central.” A new 3 p.m. hour led by Pamela Brown is being called “The Bulletin.”
CNN Max is likely to evolve over time. Among the features the company will try out are ways of alerting Max viewers to breaking news while they are watching something else on the service, whether it be an HBO series, a Turner Classic Movies selection or an old episode of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Another test will be something Perrette calls “dynamic tiling.” Rather than use the same static image in the graphic block users can select to watch a CNN program, Perrette envisions updating the image to reflect what an anchor like Blitzer or Cooper is talking about as their live shows unfurl. “How do you show key art that rotates?” he asks. “Is there a way to change the key art to repesent more closely what Anderson may be talking about at 15 minutes after the hour versus 30 minutes after the hour?”
Such features, he cautions, are not likely to surface when the service launches in September, but viewers will be made to understand that CNN Max will serve as a sort of “open beta for news” that will allow for experimentation.
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