Staff at CNN’s short-lived streaming service CNN+ have been left ‘aghast and furious’ at management after the decision to end the service after only three weeks – describing it as ‘an absolute debacle.’
CNN’s new CEO Chris Licht – who does not officially take over until May 2 – told staff on Thursday that CNN+ was ending.
The service only began on March 29, and producers had lured over talent including former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, actress Eva Longoria, and chef Alison Roman.
The demise of CNN+ was greeted with joy by Fox News figures such as Greg Gutfeld, as well as critics of the network including Donald Trump and his son.
Insiders estimated the network spent $300 million launching and between $100 million and $200 million advertising. CNN had been planning to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, two people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.
David Zaslav, who since the beginning of this month has led the newly-merged massive media giant, had been expected to bring in changes.
But one veteran staffer told The Washington Post: ‘We expected them to cut off a few fingers, not the entire arm.’
David Zaslav, the president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, took the helm of the newly-merged media company on April 8.
Chris Wallace, 74, joined Fox News in 2003 and left to host a show on CNN+. His former colleagues have gloated about the collapse of his new home
Stars of CNN+ including Kasie Hunt (third left), Chris Wallace (next to Hunt) and Anderson Cooper (third right) are seen on March 28 celebrating the launch of the streaming service
The new streaming service had been heavily advertised, but only had 150,000 subscribers
The 300 employees who had already started working at CNN+ were left fuming by Thursday’s announcement – despite the network saying it would try to transfer them to open positions in the company.
Layoffs are likely for people who are not placed in new jobs; they would receive at least six months of severance, according to reports.
Plenty within the service felt they had not been given a chance.
‘Many people left their stable jobs at CNN to go to CNN+ and then they pull it right after launch?’ a source told The New York Post.
‘Everyone is aghast and furious.’
Sara Sidner, who moved from LA to New York to host a CNN+ show, told Thursday’s meeting that the decision to end it so soon was ‘mind-blowing’
Another source complained to the paper: ‘The big people will likely be saved, but what about everybody else, the people who do the real work?’
Another was even more blunt.
‘This is f****** crazy, it is nuts.
‘This literally rivals the epic disaster of Quibi,’ the insider said, referring to the short-lived streaming platform that went out of business seven months after it launched in April 2020.
Licht broke the news on Thursday at a meeting held in a TV studio on the 19th floor of CNN’s headquarters in New York.
After his speech, according to The Washington Post, Sara Sidner, a long-serving CNN correspondent who moved from Los Angeles to New York to host a CNN Plus show, stood up and told the shocked crowd: ‘This is mind-blowing, to be perfectly honest.’
She later tweeted: ‘It’s over. It’s been the shortest most amazing ride #CNNPlus team.’
Hunt, reportedly enticed to leave MSNBC with a $1 million contract, tweeted: ‘The journalists I have been privileged to work with on CNN Plus are world class.
‘I am so incredibly proud to be able to call them colleagues.
‘If your organization would like a chance to benefit from their talents, my DMs are open
‘This is *my* job for the foreseeable future.
She added: ‘(Some of you are asking about me. I am proud to be on team CNN. I will be fine. It’s not about me right now.)’
Sources told The Post that CNN ‘overspent on talent’ by giving Wallace $9 million per year.
He is now thought likely to take over the 9 p.m. slot on CNN left vacant after the firing of Chris Cuomo in December.
Donald Trump was among those celebrating the demise of CNN’s new venture.
‘Congratulations to CNN+ on their decision to immediately FOLD for a lack of ratings, or viewers in any way, shape, or form,’ Trump said in a statement issued on Thursday.
‘It was like an empty desert out there despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars and the hiring of low-rated Chris Wallace, a man who tried so hard to be his father, Mike, but lacked the talent and whatever else is necessary to be a star.
‘In any event, it’s just one more piece of CNN and Fake News that we don’t have to bother with anymore!’
His son, Donald Trump Jr, tweeted a mocking meme, showing the famous dancing pallbearers of Ghana, with the CNN logo on the coffin.
The glossy launch party for CNN+ was only three weeks ago, on March 28
Greg Gutfeld, Fox News host, on Thursday was joking repeatedly about the demise of CNN+
Fox News hosts were also gloating about their rival network’s struggles.
Greg Gutfeld joked repeatedly about the situation on Thursday, commenting during a discussion about leaders of the Democratic Party: ‘The Democratic bench is thinner than Chris Wallace’s demo reel from CNN+.’
He later added: ‘BLM has done to black people what Chris Wallace did to CNN+. He enticed them with a promise and then ditched them on the side of the road.’
In another instance he joked, ‘A lot of these solutions that are coming from the left are unreliable, there are solar panels or windmills. Look at CNN+, how much money they invested in wind power by hiring Chris Wallace.’
During the final segment, Gutfeld aired a clip of a bison roaming through a town.
‘I haven’t done a celebrity sighting in awhile,’ he began. ‘As we know, CNN+ closed down, so you see a lot of their talent out on the street.
‘For example, I just looked out at Sixth Avenue, and who did I see just hanging out in front of a tavern? None other than, guess? Chris Wallace, just wandering around.’
The decision to close the streaming service, Licht told staff, was not due to any failure on their park.
The service has attracted 150,000 subscribers so far, paying $5.99 a month, and were on a pace to hit first-year subscription goals.
CNN+ was unable to show the same news shows as CNN, owing to existing contracts with cable tv providers. But they had encouraged their stars like Anderson Cooper to branch out into a parenting show, and had given Don Lemon a chat show.
Yet CNN’s new parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery – officially formed from a merger on April 8 – was unimpressed by the figures.
At any given time, fewer than 10,000 people were watching the service, two people familiar with the numbers told The New York Times.
‘It’s not your fault that you had the rug pulled out from underneath you,’ Licht said on Thursday, according to a recording reviewed by the paper.
‘The new owner came in and said: ‘What a beautiful house! But I need an apartment.’
‘And that doesn’t take anything away from this beautiful house you built. I am proud of it, and I am proud of this team, and I am gutted by what this means for you.’