CNN+ launch in a hyper-politicized landscape

March 25th, 2022 | Nick Kartsunes

First, there was Disney+, then Discovery+, and now we’re getting CNN+. Especially in the case of CNN, it begs the question: Plus what? Every streaming service that enters this ever-crowded market needs to justify why it exists, and that grows truer and truer with each new streamer that emerges. Disney+ offers customers access to all Disney and 20th Century Fox titles, as well as Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Discovery+ has a well of reality television so deep it could keep fans of the genre watching for the rest of their lives. CNN+ needs to prove with its marketing what specifically makes it special enough to invest in a monthly subscription fee.

CNN plus what, exactly?

One early ad campaign for CNN+ showcased popular CNN hosts introducing themselves, and then appearing in more casual clothes to introduce themselves again, giving us “Jake Tapper, and Jake Tapper Plus,” for example. These ads are, no doubt, clever and entertaining, but they do little to explain the added value that CNN+ will offer in comparison to just tuning in to CNN. If they want to demonstrate value, the streamer would do well to highlight new content and the specific focus of the new programming, with new faces to the front. This could come in the form of digital ads and TV spots from CNN+ or boosted social posts from the hosts of these shows themselves, as did Scott Gallaway on his LinkedIn profile.

Source: LinkedIn

Americans of all political stripes appreciate savings

CNN+ has notably offered a lifetime 50% discount to early adopters, guaranteeing that subscribers who join within a month of launch will be grandfathered into a reduced $2.99/month rate as opposed to the regular $5.99/month that everyone else will be expected to pay. This is a smart way of allowing consumers to see for themselves what the service has to offer, and has even the potential to pique the curiosity of more right-wing Americans to whom CNN does not usually appeal.

Far-right radio host Glenn Beck agreed to run an ad for CNN+ on his podcast The Blaze, which admittedly struck an odd tone as he oscillated between disparaging the network and praising the value of the $2.99 deal. Still, after seeing political polarization in the 24-hour TV news market has skyrocketed over the past several years, it will be interesting to see how effective CNN+ will be in reaching across the aisle. If CNN+ is at all interested in attracting new viewers who typically patronize more conservative news outlets—and its poaching of longtime Fox News anchor Chris Wallace suggests that this is the case—ads centering on the large library of food and culture shows on CNN+ that mention the $2.99 deal could be an effective way of doing this.

CNN+ lucked out with its launch timing

Though the messaging surrounding the rollout of CNN+ has been rather vague, one way we can expect CNN to sell the service to its cable viewers is by capitalizing on the demand for breaking news brought by the recent conflict in Ukraine. Cynical as it may be, as the conflict evolves, CNN+ has been given a great opportunity to make the case for its expanded news programming to consumers. This is not without precedent for the network, as the former boss of CNN famously commented on obsessive coverage of Donald Trump in 2016, saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” While management has changed since those days, and the situations are not directly comparable, it is not unreasonable to think that CNN+ would play up its bread and butter during a time when people are clamoring for it.

What we think

The political divide and weakened trust in the news will ultimately play a role in which messaging strategies are viable.

There is a lot riding on the launch of CNN+, as its success or failure could set the stage for how other major news outlets engage with streaming while more and more Americans cut the cord. And the fact of the matter is that these networks all have political connotations nowadays, so CNN+ is going to need to develop separate strategies to attract different viewers. 

The $2.99/month for life deal is a great way to attract subscribers of all types. Loyal CNN viewers will in all likelihood enjoy feeling appreciated for early adoption, and the lighthearted CNN-but-even-more type ads will probably appeal to this demographic that does not need to be sold on what the brand has to offer. But to attract newcomers from their competitors’ viewerships, CNN+ will need to leverage its more neutral programming and new content outside of the reporters most people associate with CNN as it is today. And to reach beyond those two groups to attract viewers with no clear allegiance to any cable news network who are simply interested in staying as up to date as possible on Ukraine, ads positioning CNN+ as the content hub with the most expansive daily coverage could win big.

Nick Kartsunes

Nick Kartsunes

Nick Kartsunes is a Research Analyst with Comperemedia focusing on the technology, media, and telecommunications sectors. In this role he pairs competitive marketing intelligence and consumer trends to create timely and meaningful stories.