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CNN plans to start a new digital service called CNN MAX

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Late next month, CNN plans to launch a new digital service. It's called CNN Max and will appear on the streaming platform Max. Now, if this sounds familiar, you might remember that a streaming platform called CNN+ lasted just a few weeks before it was shut down in April of last year. So what makes this time different? Well, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here to explain. Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with what it's going to offer. Is the stuff on CNN Max going to look very different from what CNN+ was supposed to have been?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's going to look quite different from what CNN was supposed to evolve into. I mean, right now we're going to see a vertical, essentially, called CNN Max on the Max service. Max might better have been known to many people as HBO. Max is what evolved when Discovery essentially swallowed CNN and HBO's parent company, Time Warner. And so they've got a bunch of other things up there - you know, Turner Classic Movies and others. This is going to be one of those verticals.

You're going to see some, you know, restreams of well-recognized shows from people like Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and some new ones from folks like Jim Acosta, Fredricka Whitfield and Jim Sciutto - you know, people familiar to CNN but fresh shows, including some breaking news that Sciutto will anchor. They'll also livestream some of the shows from CNN International, and you'll still be able to see some of what are called the CNN Originals on there. But it's not as fully fledged an offering. You know, CNN+ was envisioned by Jeff Zucker and Andrew Morse, two of the top officials there before last spring of 2022, as being really a full-offer, direct-to-consumer product that would be, like the BBC or The New York Times, kind of immersing people in not just the news but in a lot of cultural and other interests as well.

SHAPIRO: Why did CNN+ have the plug pulled on it?

FOLKENFLIK: So Jeff Zucker was the head of CNN, and he was fired in very early, I believe, February of 2022. And Chris Licht was brought in by the head of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav. And pretty much before Licht even entered the door, he killed it. And this was a way in which that Warner Bros. Discovery, among other things, could show to Wall Street that it was serious about getting its debt and costs underlined because this was going to be a very expensive proposition. But that said, it also - there were concerns about whether or not this would make the profits. Now Licht is gone, and there are, you know, other news organizations around the world, including our own, who have found ways to do things direct for consumer. A lot of other news outlets are doing sort of alternative livestreams. This is CNN's version of that to some degree.

SHAPIRO: So are there real substantive reasons to believe things are going to go differently this time, or is it just a difference in leadership and a new team with their own vision?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's a different strategy. It's in some ways a more contained strategy. It looks like it's, for the moment, more interested in bolstering the subscriptions to Max itself, that streaming service. The idea is you keep it there. You offer more things for the consumer for their subscription cost. And you're also sort of saying, as people cord-cut, look. We're going to have a direct-streaming product to some degree. Cable ratings are going down. People are essentially dropping off subscribing to conventional cable. But there's also the question of, you know, is the new leadership considering whether or not they're going to spin off CNN? And there are ways in which they can deal with debt. This is a way to handle that.

SHAPIRO: In just a couple sentences, you think it's going to work this time?

FOLKENFLIK: They're calling it a beta edition. That is the very first effort. I think it's going to be an opportunity for them to show that there is a landing place for CNN. The guys who did CNN+ wanted to shove real CNN there within a year or two. These guys are, I think, trying to evolve more slowly.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL AXELROD'S "HOLY THURSDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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