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WBD wants to put more CNN content into Max streamer

Existing cable and satellite deals are complicating the matter.

Existing cable and satellite deals are complicating the matter.

The logo of CNN Worldwide appears at the cable network's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia on January 26, 2013.
The logo of CNN Worldwide appears at the cable network’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia on January 26, 2013. (Photo by Hermann Luyken via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) is exploring the possibility of adding more content from CNN into its cornerstone streaming service Max, according to a report.

On Tuesday, business publication Axios said executives were contemplating ways to put CNN content onto Max without running afoul of contractual commitments made to pay TV platforms like cable and satellite operators.

Some CNN documentaries and specialty shows are already available within Max, including a retrospective series produced by Tom Hanks that takes a look at culture, society and news throughout the decades and Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” travel show.

What Max doesn’t offer are daily news programs like “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and “CNN This Morning,” which puts CNN at a disadvantage compared to rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC, which do offer on-demand versions of news and prime-time programs on streaming services (Fox Nation and Comcast’s Peacock, respectively).

Most of CNN’s carriage agreements with cable and satellite services pre-date the marriage between AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Discovery Networks, which was consummated last year. Those agreements require CNN and its sister network, HLN, to produce a certain amount of live news content for cable and satellite audiences. The stipulation is the primary reason why HLN continues to simulcast “CNN This Morning,” after moving away from all other news programming during the day.

Prior to WarnerMedia and Discovery’s merger, executives at CNN came up with a novel idea to sidestep these agreements: Spawn a new streaming service that offers comparable, but otherwise different, programming from the cable network. The network debuted CNN Plus in April 2022. It lasted one month and earned less than 100,000 subscribers before WBD shut it down.

Executives don’t want to make the same mistake again, so they are taking a more-measured approach with how to put CNN’s content in front of more streaming audiences. Overseas, where carriage contracts are substantially different, CNN has launched a free, ad-supported version of its channel called CNN Fast that aggregates clips from CNN International programs alongside videos that are produced specifically for CNN Digital.

CNN operates a similar streaming channel in the United States called CNN RePlay, which shuffles clips from “CNN Newsroom” and a few other programs. But the streaming channel is only offered on Paramount Global’s Pluto TV and Samsung TV Plus, and 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.

While WBD is weighing how to add more CNN content into Max without upsetting cable and satellite agreements, the company is currently looking to modify certain terms to give it more flexibility to distribute CNN’s core programming on digital platforms in the future. But those terms won’t be fully realized until WBD is able to renegotiate agreements for carriage of CNN and other former Turner-owned channels, which could take a few more years.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).