Brian Stelter’s coverage of the demise of CNN+ has been almost as odd as his coverage of Jeff Zucker leaving the company. It feels like a while ago but it was only December when we learned that Jeff Zucker was leaving CNN in part because of his not-so-secret relationship with his subordinate Allison Gollust. At the time some suggested that relationship might have been going on for years, possibly most of a decade. But curiously, CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter was shocked. He somehow missed a big story that was right under his nose.
Stelter also did his best to defend CNN over its decision to allow Gov. Cuomo to appear on his own brother’s TV show, telling Late Show host Stephen Colbert there was no page in the journalism ethics textbook that covered such a circumstance.
So here we are a couple months later and Stelter is once again defending CNN in a way that seems defensive and even self-serving given that he was saying this on his own expanded show on CNN+. “You got all the haters today saying this thing was a failure,” he said. He continued, “I don’t know if we can ever assess that because it just simply didn’t have enough time because of the management’s change in direction.”
Except that’s not really a very full accounting of what happened here. Yes, it’s true that CNN+ had no champions left but it’s also true the decision to shutter the service was based on an assessment that it likely would not be profitable any time soon. Yesterday, the NY Times published a story titled “Inside the Implosion of CNN+” which made that point clearly.
David Zaslav had been chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery for all of a few hours when he learned he had a problem.
On April 11, the day his newly merged company began trading on Nasdaq, Mr. Zaslav greeted New York employees with pasta and ice cream bars, delivering an impromptu rallying cry to his new charges. He was on his way to Washington, next stop on the coronation tour, when a call came in.
His team had just gotten its first look at data from CNN+, the much-promoted subscription streaming service started two weeks before, and the news was grim. Fewer than 10,000 viewers were watching at any given time, despite a multimillion dollar ad campaign and big hires like Chris Wallace. They were recommending a cold-eyed review…
In a troubling sign, downloads for the service were waning, despite the big marketing push.
None of this got mentioned by Stelter on his regular CNN show Reliable Sources which aired Sunday. In a segment about CNN+, Stelter said, “Some partisans are leaping to predictable talking points about politics but the truth is this was a corporate move. This CNN+ service was doomed because of the timing of a merger and clashing streaming strategies,” he said.
He then introduced Axios reporter Sara Fischer to talk about the closure. She initially did talk about the merger but later in the segment Stelter was once again pushing the idea this was a decision about corporate strategy. “It’s hard to fathom as a CNN employee…that this was simply about corporate strategy but that’s what it was,” he said.
And at that point, Sara Fischer interjected a note about what Stelter seemed intent on ignoring. “Yeah, that’s what it was then there’s also a differing view on whether or not it was successful,” she said.
“Was it too soon to know?” Stelter objected.
Fischer agreed that’s the counter-argument some have made. She said some sources have told her that the service’s 150,000 subscribers was “pretty good.” But she added that the issue was the cost it took to generate those numbers. “You’re talking $300 million dollars of investment to date. The plan was to spend a billion dollars over the next four years with the hope of getting to profitability after four years. The question becomes…is it ultimately going to be worth the spend?”
150,000 subscribers at $6 month is something like $11 million per year. That’s obviously not enough to support a $300 million investment, much less a doubling or tripling of that investment. And that’s the piece of the puzzle that Stelter apparently does not want to talk about. CNN+ had some big names and big advertising budgets and yet the number of subscriptions was slowing down after just two weeks. Maybe that’s something Jeff Zucker would have been willing to accept but that doesn’t mean it was smart business or that CNN+ had a real shot at success. It’s just as reasonable to conclude that the incoming CEO made the right call and put an end to something that was only going to keep siphoning off money from the main business.
Again, it’s pretty obvious why Brian Stelter doesn’t believe that. He had a show on the service that just got canceled and he’s a Jeff Zucker loyalist. That’s fine for his personal life but if he’s acting as a reporter/analyst on a show called Reliable Sources, shouldn’t he at least mention some of the clear financial reasons CNN+ was shut down? The fact that a reporter from another news outlet was the first to bring it up sort of sums up the problem with Brian Stelter covering CNN related news in a nutshell.
Update: Joe Rogan talked about Brian Stelter and the demise of CNN+ on his show Friday.
WOW. Joe Rogan just absolutely destroys fake news potato Brian Stelter and talks about the predictable demise of CNN+
Must watch: pic.twitter.com/hbjrmx2Uw4
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) April 23, 2022