What you need to know:
- The new service will combine live news, on demand shows and interactive interviews to hook audiences for $5.99 a month.
- This does not in any way mean that CNN will change the current TV interface you enjoy on cable.
On Tuesday CNN launched CNN+, a subscription-based streaming service. Described as “the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980”, the new service will combine live news, on demand shows and interactive interviews to hook audiences for $5.99 (roughly Sh700) a month.
This does not in any way mean that CNN will change the current TV interface you enjoy on cable. This is an ‘additive’ service, one that CNN executives claim to be ‘distinctive and different’ from everything else they are currently offering.
Expect to meet new and familiar faces and more importantly, a treasure trove of content including CNN original series like “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and new programs like “The Don Lemon Show” as well as breaking news coverage and interactive interviews.
Clearly, a lot of investment has gone into CNN+ to give audiences new shows and repurposing older content from the vaults. CNN’s new addition is not new to the industry; we are increasingly seeing news outlets previously known for their hard news content venturing into lifestyle content and topical programming to deepen their value proposition to their audiences.
Following in the footsteps of Netflix and Hulu, news organisations like CNN want to go beyond causal relationships with their audiences in favor of deeper, closer relationships with customers. They are investing in fresh talent – including movie stars like Eva Longoria – and affording these content creators remarkably high levels of agency and creative independence.
Whether CNN+ and its new promises will be enough to loosen the purse strings of their audiences is yet to be determined. Already, the likes of Netflix have admitted to struggling with the non-fiction topical programs that touch on current affairs – the exact content that CNN+ is selling.
That said, it can never be too early to pick a few lessons from CNN’s newest move. I’ll highlight two. The first is that in the digital news business, flexibility is key. CNN has over the last 42 years built a brand around hard news peppered with lifestyle programs.
In this new dispensation, CNN appears to be diversifying not only channels for delivery to include live streaming and cable TV, but also experimenting with new content verticals that are different but related to their hard news offering.
The second lesson is that audience interactivity is key in the digital business. In an era where ratings tell only one side of the story, it is important that traditional news organisations invest in robust platforms that allow users to interact with their content.
While this is not new to the industry, it will be interesting to see how CNN’s platform that allows interacting subscribers to ask guests their questions and get answers in real time will play out.
The big question is: How will the market react to CNN+? For now, it may be too early to predict. However way it goes, may they be guided by the wise words of Mandela, “I never lose. I either win or learn” .
The writer is the Director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]