Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) is in the process of finalizing plans to offer live programming from CNN within its blockbuster streaming service Max, with distribution planned in markets outside the United States, according to a report.
The report, published Wednesday by Bloomberg, comes several weeks after competing business publication Axios said WBD was evaluating ways to offer more live content from CNN within Max without running afoul of contractual commitments made to cable and satellite platforms.
Some of CNN’s documentary programming is already available to Max subscribers, including its decades-based retrospective series directed by Tom Hanks and the Anthony Bourdain-hosted travel show “Parts Unknown.”
But live programming from CNN’s domestic channel — including the flagship morning show “CNN This Morning” and politics-oriented “The Lead with Jake Tapper” — are still exclusive to cable and satellite, in part because WBD’s contract with pay television providers requires them to distribute them to those platforms first.
The contractual agreements make it tough for WBD to offer the same programming through Max, and was one of the principal reasons why WBD’s former parent company, AT&T, allowed CNN to launch a slate of separate live programming for upstart streamer CNN Plus last year. CNN Plus closed after less than a month.
CNN operates a free, ad-supported streaming channel called “CNN RePlay” that serves up clips aggregated from various programs as well as digital-only news stories pulled from the CNN website and YouTube. The stream is available on Paramount Global’s Pluto TV and Samsung TV Plus, but doesn’t pull in many viewers or generate a substantial amount of digital revenue, according to a person familiar with the operation. The lack of digital revenue and general awareness for CNN RePlay are the primary reasons why WBD hasn’t pushed to get the streaming channel on more platforms like Fox-owned Tubi or Comcast’s Xumo Play, the source said.
WBD has been slowly changing the terms of its agreements with cable companies as it negotiates new carriage of its channels on those systems, with provisions in place that give it greater flexibility to offer live CNN content through Max in the United States. But it won’t be able to execute on those new terms in full for several years, because its negotiations with cable and satellite platforms — and, now, streaming services like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Dish Network’s Sling TV — come up for renewal at different times and can’t be negotiated all at once.
WBD’s agreements with pay TV platforms are different overseas, with the company able to offer live programming through its own streaming products in most countries. Executives feel live CNN programming can help capture more subscribers for Max, which launched as HBO Max three years ago and has been slow to roll out in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
Hoping to capture digital ad dollars in Europe, WBD launched a CNN-branded streaming channel called “CNN Fast” that operates similar to CNN RePlay in the United States, though it focuses more on news, sports and entertainment reports that appeal to a global audience.