What Streaming Upstart CNN Can Learn From Fox Nation and Other Competitors

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CNN is entering the streaming game years after its competitors. Is that an advantage?


By the time CNN’s new streaming service CNN+ debuts in early 2022, Fox News will have launched its third streaming service. MSNBC, meanwhile, has been creating content for NBCUniversal’s Peacock. With such a late start, can CNN learn from the innovation of its two biggest cable news competitors?

Gary Kaltbaum, president of Kaltbaum Capital Management and host of the nationally syndicated radio show “Investor’s Edge,” sees one way CNN can copy the success of Fox News’ Fox Nation: “Use some of your best and popular talent,” he advised.

Kaltbaum pointed to Fox Nation’s programming from Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson, who helms the most popular show in cable news, as well as shows by Nancy Grace, Dan Bongino and Lara Logan, all of whom “are household names” who draw viewers from television to streaming.

Hub Entertainment Research founder and principal Jon Giegengack said CNN has some advantages in waiting. “We’ve seen Fox make a number of changes to broaden the appeal that weren’t part of the original product envisioned for Fox super fans,” Giegengack said, noting how the network has added more originals and catalog TV series. “And the CNN audience is already baked in, so being a late mover doesn’t have the same disadvantages as might exist in other content categories.”

In a staff town hall with CNN boss Jeff Zucker last month, CNN+ leadership emphasized that the streaming service won’t be intended to run 24-hour news. Instead, it will function as a partner, not a replacement. Representatives for CNN did not immediately return a request for comment for this story.

The CNN+ announcement promised live, daily programming with deep dives and lifestyle content delivered by “some of CNN’s most prominent talent, as well as several new faces.” Subscribers will be able to “connect directly with anchors and experts” to have real-time conversations about hot topics.

That’s a solid move, according to Giegengack.

“CNN+ doesn’t need to differentiate itself from other news offerings so much as from CNN on cable. They need to have parallel content that embodies the things CNN fans love already, but that is different and compelling enough that they’ll pay the subscription fee,” Giegengack said. “Fox, CBS and others have done this by offering deep dives on specific topics, long-form video stories and new ways to see key talent.”

CNN doesn’t just stand to learn from what Fox News and MSNBC are doing in the streaming space, either. There are a few lessons in its own history. After a $40 million investment in 2017, CNN ultimately shuttered its “Great Big Story” digital storytelling division in 2020, ending the brief run of the 24-hour streaming channel.

CNN also purchased Casey Neistat’s video-sharing app Beme for $25 million in 2016, but pulled the plug on that attempt to reach younger consumers in 2018. Last month, after his nondisclosure agreement expired, Neistat reflected on CNN’s approach to digital media in an interview with Steve-O. “I really pushed them hard,” Neistat said, recalling when Zucker first approached him. “There’s nothing CNN has that I am interested in. I love being on YouTube. But your tech sucks. Your app sucks. Your technology is garbage, and you should buy my tech company and we should build stuff together.”

Ultimately, Neistat said, he was “excited about building technology with” CNN, but the two parties butted heads because “it was a misalignment to take a really nimble tech startup that has the mentality of entrepreneurs and founders and try to force that round peg into the square hole.”

Neistat concluded, “Turner is a 50-year institution, and that’s where the misalignment came from.” What CNN needs to do in the future, he said, is asses that institutional legacy and actively work not “to force that round peg into the square hole” when it comes to innovating in digital media.


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