CNN+ streaming service will shut down weeks after launch

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Discovery executives, wary of antitrust rules, were forced to advise their CNN counterparts until the merger was completed. CNN+ had lost its champion when Mr. Zucker left in February due to an undisclosed romantic relationship with a colleague. But Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, went ahead anyway, launching the streaming platform on March 29 to the frustration of Discovery executives.

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Zaslav had a very different take on digital strategy.

On the morning of April 11, the first business day of Discovery ownership — and 90 minutes before its WBD stock even went live on the Nasdaq — JB Perrette, Discovery’s global head of streaming, called a meeting with CNN executives.

Mr. Perrette had a message: Marketing of CNN+ should be suspended, pending a formal review by the company, three people familiar with the conversation said.

Warner Bros. executives Discovery wanted to merge its other subscription platforms – Discovery+ and HBO Max – into one giant streaming service. They weren’t convinced that a niche product like CNN+ could be viable on its own.

And there was the issue of debt. Discovery’s merger left the conglomerate owed about $55 billion, which executives are now under pressure to repay. CNN planned to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, two people familiar with the matter said, even renting an additional floor of its expensive Manhattan skyscraper.

Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer and key architect of CNN+, who has become the service’s biggest internal champion, countered that subscription-based online news could succeed, citing the New York Times as an example. CNN+ executives said they had achieved 150,000 paid subscribers and were on track to hit first-year subscription goals.

Discovery executives weren’t impressed: At any one time, fewer than 10,000 people were watching the service, said two people familiar with the numbers, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. (On Thursday, Mr. Morse said he was leaving the network altogether.)

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