CNN Plus enters the streaming wars

April 11, 2022

Photo of CNN homepage on a monitor screen
Jonathan Bennett, Chief Commercial Officer

Jonathan Bennett

Chief Commercial Officer


Competition for subscribers amongst video on demand (VOD) providers in the US continues to heat up as media companies make similar moves into airing live news and sports coverage over the Internet and mobile apps rather than traditional broadcast TV networks.

CNN launched its streaming news and documentaries platform CNN+ on 29th March, with Sensor Tower estimating 18,000 installs of the app on its first day of live programming, contributing to an average of 9,000 a day in the week ending 22nd of March.[i] CNN+ subscriptions fees are currently US$5.99 a month or US$59.99 annually. However, early adopters signing up in the first four weeks of the launch were offered a discounted rate of US$2.99 a month for the lifetime of their subscription.

That lower rate is substantially lower than Fox News Media’s streaming service Fox Nation which also costs US$5.99 a month at full price, or US$64.99 for an annual subscription. A crucial difference is that Fox Nation tends to provide another channel for existing Fox content rather than offering any new shows and programming.[ii]

SVOD service bundling on the cards

That’s an important distinction and one that looks to provide a critical element of competitive differentiation once CNN+ becomes available alongside another streaming Discovery+ when the latter’s merger with Warner Media is completed (read more about that deal in Jonathan Kriegel’s blog WarnerMedia and Discovery combine to form a streaming giant). Andrew Morse, the executive vice president, and the chief digital officer leading the CNN+ rollout, has insisted that the service will be completely different from any other news platform already available, offering a mix of lifestyle, documentary, and exclusive CNN content headlined by high profile journalists and media veterans.

Nor is it intended to compete with entertainment streaming services.[iii] Rather Morse sees the ability to bundle CNN+ alongside Discovery+ and Warner Media-owned HBO Max as “an exciting proposition,” one that the company sees to compete in the fiercely contested video streaming market in the US and further afield.

Rush for live sports streaming rights

Part of the CNN+ remit will undoubtedly involve sports news, but the real action is in live sports streaming. Warner Media unveiled a US$200m, eight-year deal with the US Soccer Federation, which will see it stream 20 matches a year involving the US national team (both male and female) from 2023, some of which will be available exclusively on HBO Max.[iv] Other US media companies have been busy expanding their own live sports streaming in the last six months, seemingly intent on obliterating the last bastion of pay-TV in the country as cord-cutting becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Comcast-owned NBC Universal will shortly begin airing 18 live Sunday morning games per season after agreeing to a US$30m exclusive rights deal with Major League Baseball (MLB)[v]. This contract also delivers access to on-demand content such as classic games, documentaries, and highlights packages. Comcast earlier renewed its exclusive US rights to broadcast 380 English Premier League soccer matches per season for six years starting in 2022.

Reports suggest the media company outbid rivals including Disney, Amazon, and Fox to ink a deal worth more than US$2.5bn[vi] as it seeks to pull more subscribers onto the premium, paid version of Peacock alongside its traditional TV networks NBC and USA. Peacock Premium has previously offered its subscribers live coverage of the French Open tennis tournament, US and British Open golf, National Hockey League (NHL) finals, and WWE wrestling.

HBO Max and Peacock will compete with live sports offered by other US streaming platforms. Disney-owned ESPN+ streams live baseball, soccer, UFC, hockey, and other competitions, for example, and is often bundled alongside other Disney-owned entertainment services, Disney+ and Hulu. Paramount’s Paramount+ also streams NFL games, PGA golf, college football, soccer, and basketball, while Apple TV+ agreed to its own deal with the MLB to stream Friday Night Baseball and highlights shows last month [March 2021].[vii]

US consumers have arguably been slower to adopt streaming platforms en masse than their counterparts in Europe and Asia. The momentum delivered by live news and sports broadcasts over the next few years could change that dynamic while simultaneously presenting telcos with content partnership opportunities that will be too good to pass up.

[i] CNN+ launch may be off to a bumpy start, numbers suggest, TechCrunch, 6th April 2022

[ii] CNN+ Subscribers Who Sign Up Early Will Pay Just $2.99 Per Month, Forbes, 2nd March 2022

[iii] CNN+ Debuts: Is It The Next News Innovation Or Too Late To The Streaming Wars?, Deadline, 28th March 2022

[iv] HBO Max Officially Gets Into Live Sports With $200M U.S. Soccer Deal, The Hollywood Report, 1st March 2022

[v] MLB and NBC confirm ‘US$30m a year’ Peacock streaming deal, Sports Media Pro, 7th April 2022

[vi] Comcast Renews English Premier League Soccer Rights for the U.S., Bloomberg, 18th November 2021

[vii] Apple TV+ Will Stream Friday Night Baseball & More MLB Content, Cord Cutters News, 8th March 2022

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