CNN+ launch may be off to a bumpy start, numbers suggest

CNN+ launched on Tuesday, March 29 and is already showing mediocre results in terms of standalone mobile app installs. Sensor Tower released its initial figures (first reported by Insider) that show the CNN app, which now houses the new streaming service, added about 18,000 installs on the day of launch. During the seven days ending March 22, it had an average of 9,000 installs per day.

CNN’s new service includes a mix of daily news panels and documentaries such as “The Land of the Giants: Titans of Tech,” “The Murdochs: Empire of Influence,” as well as CNN anchors Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper and more.

The subscription only costs $5.99 per month. Plus, CNN is offering a limited-time deal and is giving new subscribers 50% off the standard monthly plan for a lifetime, which is just $2.99 per month.

The company has gone all-in on the service, throwing a pricey launch event at South by Southwest and running an ad during the Oscars broadcast, where spots cost as much as $2.2 million. Ahead of the launch, CNN+ spent approximately $322,000 in 2021, per Kantar’s estimates, noted by Insider.

One person familiar with the numbers informed Insider that, overall, WarnerMedia spent around $100 million to market CNN+, which is more than what the network typically spends in a year on marketing. A CNN executive said the launch budget was around $250 million.

By comparison, Disney spent some $135 million in TV advertising for Disney+ in the first half of 2020, according to eMarketer.

Sensor Tower predicts that CNN app installs increased 33% to 77,000 in CNN+’s initial six days compared to the prior six-day period. In the Apple and Google Play stores, the CNN app has 55.4 million global installs.

To be fair, mobile app downloads only represent a window into CNN+ adoption, not the full picture. The service is available for viewing on the web, Apple TV and Fire TV as well, according to its website. It’s possible that some subscribers have only logged in via those platforms, not their mobile devices. Also, because the company bundles CNN+ inside the CNN app, the numbers reflecting exiting user adoption aren’t represented by new installs.

It’s also important to know that CNN+ launched without distribution deals with telecom Verizon and connected TV platform Roku, which other big streamers have. When WarnerMedia launched HBO Max almost two years ago, not only was it during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also didn’t have support on the second most popular platform, Amazon Fire TV.

When it comes to rankings, the CNN app jumped from 12th place to third place in the news category on Apple’s app store while sitting at 181 overall on launch day, according to Apptopia.

Note that this isn’t a direct comparison, however, the short-lived Quibi had 300,000 app installs on its first day, whereas Disney+ reached 4 million subscribers, according to Sensor Tower. Wall Street stated that Fox Nation had only 1.5 million paid subscribers three years post-launch.

The Cable News Network has faced doubts that people would pay for a streaming news app. “There are going to be personalities who are worth the low price point,” said Brian Wieser, global president of Business Intelligence at GroupM. “The only problem is, how many people will pay for news personalities? It’s probably in the low single millions.”

News personalities aren’t the only reason why people may not be flocking to the service. It also doesn’t help that Jeff Zucker, the former president of CNN, was forced to resign after having a secret relationship with a colleague. The previous corporate structure is now non-existent, and the replacement, Chris Licht, has not begun at the company as of yet.

The results of WarnerMedia’s mega-merger with Discovery on April 11 are also murky. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar left the company yesterday, leaving his legacy behind for Discovery Inc.’s David Zaslav, leaving uncertainties about the future of CNN+, HBO Max and Discovery+.

In an interview with CNBC’s Tech Check, Kilar had suggested the service would be offered both as a standalone option and bundled with HBO Max. It’s unclear how that vision will change post-merger, as Kilar has exited the company.

In a statement, a company spokeswoman said:

We are very happy with the launch of CNN+ and our first week’s performance is well ahead of expectations. Our audience has already indicated their love and interest in our programming, and we will continue to serve them more of it. We cannot comment on subscriber numbers as they are not public at this time.

Kilar discussed the numbers publicly yesterday on CNBC, noting the app was ahead of expectations. CNN EVP Andrew Morse shared a similar sentiment.

It’s possible that CNN+ subscriber numbers will be released on a future earnings call with Discovery. CNN Digital already has a large footprint, the company noted, with a monthly average of 144 million monthly unique users in 2021.