The Media Notepad: CNN Plus gets subtracted


Also: Black Chicagoans (still) not happy with media outlets;  Syndicated ‘Dateline’ shifts to new local outlet; Rock 95.5 surges in ratings 

After just four weeks, CNN Plus is getting… subtracted. The Warner Bros. Discovery-owned service announced Thursday it was closing April 30 after launching on March 28, debuting to poor reviews and a cumbersome price of $5.99 monthly or $59.99 a year. 

The streaming channel featured Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, and Chris Wallace, a daily Reliable Sources media show from Brian Setlter and documentaries from Eva Longoria (huh?) among others. The channel launched at a time when then-parent company WarnerMedia was being acquired by Discovery, but it didn’t stop now-departed execs Jason Kilar and Jeff Zucker from launching the streaming service anyway. 

Rumors on the channel’s demise circulated shortly after Discovery closed on the WarnerMedia purchase and the new people in charge – Discovery CEO David Zaslav among others – felt it wasn’t needed. On April 18, Warner Bros. Discovery ended all marketing of CNN Plus, ramping up more talk of its demise. On Thursday after 33 days, the plug was pulled.

“As we become Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN will be strongest as part of WBD’s streaming strategy which envisions news as an important part of a compelling broader offering along with sports, entertainment, and nonfiction content,” said Chris Licht, chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide who replaced Zucker in the role earlier this year.  “We have therefore made the decision to cease operations of CNN Plus and focus our investment on CNN’s core news-gathering operations and in further building CNN Digital. This is not a decision about quality; we appreciate all of the work, ambition and creativity that went into building CNN Plus, an organization with terrific talent and compelling programming. But our customers and CNN will be best served with a simpler streaming choice.” 

Many media pundits were quick to compare CNN Plus’ demise to Quibi, the short-lived video service who lasted a few months in 2020. 

CNN budgeted $300 million to launch and operate the streaming channel, but the content was not really distinguishable from what you found on regular CNN. The channel had less than 100,000 subscribers due to the lack of distribution on major streaming platforms such as Roku, Chromecast, Android TV, and practically any smart TV maker. 

Indeed, the launch of CNN Plus is one of the biggest media flops in history, especially when viewers didn’t feel they were getting what they paid for. It’s the second all-news venture to shutter in recent weeks with the demise of Black News Channel last month.

As reported in Robert Feder’s column last week, a study was released on the news consumption habits of South and West siders, revealing residents trust ABC 7, WGN-TV, and the Chicago Sun-Times as their information sources, not to mention alt-news Block Club Chicago, The Daily Line, and Chicago Public Square. The survey was conducted by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, put together by associate dean and professor Tim Franklin, who heads the Medill Local News Initiative. 

The majority of  the Chicago area’s Black population lives on the South and West sides; both suffer from a tremendous amount of gun violence, which often dominates Chicago’s local newscasts and makes worldwide headlines. 

The choices aren’t entirely surprising; with a few exceptions, ABC 7 (ABC-owned WLS-TV) has led the market overall for 36 years while WGN-TV places either first or second in most other local news time periods as the Chicago Tribune has never been really popular with Black Chicagoans given its traditional conservative bent. Missteps at other local stations have proven costly – especially at CBS 2 (CBS-owned WBBM-TV), who was the subject of a Operation Push boycott in 1985 after demoting anchor Harry Porterfield, spawning an exodus of Black viewers never to return, not to mention NBC 5’s decision to add Jerry Springer as a commentator to its 10 p.m. newscasts in 1997. Of note, none of the three major national cable news networks were mentioned.  

Overall, Chicago’s black community isn’t happy with news coverage, which is lacking in pretty much everything. 

“News consumers on the South and West Sides don’t believe Chicago media are meeting their information needs, despite the growth in new neighborhood and niche news outlets, said Franklin. “But the general unhappiness covers up nuances about how some organizations do well and others not.” 

It’s an issue this blog (and others) have brought up in recent years, particularly after the death of George Floyd as many Black Chicagoans criticized news coverage of the rioting and looting two years ago and again another round of looting two months later after a police officer shot an unarmed suspect in Englewood. The newsrooms in Chicago – and we’re not talking about on-air roles but behind the scenes – remain mostly white. Controversial Chicago politicians have also joined in the criticism, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. 

The results of the study revealed some interesting facts – South and West siders are cool to paywalls, given both areas are mostly low-income and have high rates of poverty; many respondents say local news doesn’t cover a particular issue enough and over a third say local news is biased and doesn’t reflect the experiences of their communities.  Several respondents also say local news is too skewed toward the view of law enforcement. 

Believe it or not, some respondents crime wasn’t covered enough on local news, though if you watch on any channel, it doesn’t seem that way. A WGN-TV poll taken last year showed 31.5 percent thought likewise. 

To read the study in full, click here

The syndicated version of Dateline is moving to a new home locally as repeats of the newsmagazine series moves to NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (NBC 5) in September.

The move is obviously being made to fill the hole in the daytime schedule left by Ellen, who is exiting next month as Kelly Clarkson’s talk show takes over her old 3 p.m. time slots on the NBC-owned stations. So naturally, something was needed to fill the time vacated by Clarkson’s move. However, no official announcement from NBC 5 on where the daily version of Dateline would air on the station’s schedule. 

NBC-owned stations in New York (WNBC), Dallas (KXAS), Washington D.C. (WRC), and Miami (WTVJ) also acquired Dateline as did KRON San Francisco, KPNX Phoenix, KUSA Denver, KXTV Sacramento, and WDRB Louisville.

Currently airing new episodes on NBC, Dateline is syndicated by NBCUniversal Syndication Studios, who share a corporate parent with NBC and the NBC-owned stations in Comcast.

Dateline has aired in syndication since 2017, but relying on “true crime” stories as the genre continues to pull viewers in as locally, syndicated Dateline repeats currently air on Fox-owned WPWR-TV/My50 at 10 p.m. Even though Dateline is exiting the station as a strip, the program is likely to remain at My50 as a weekly offering through MyNetwork TV. Dateline repeats also air on CNBC and MSNBC.

The latest PPM numbers brought good news from iHeartMedia’s Rock 95.5 – the station finished in a three-way tie for tenth place, up 20 percent from last month, marking the highest rating seen on the frequency in years. The mainstream rock station launched in September 2020 after suffering through a wheel of failed formats since WNUA signed off in 2009. 

Rock 95.5 is far ahead of Cumulus’ WKQX-FM (soon to be rebranded as Q101) who finished in 22nd place, and not far behind from rockers The Drive (WDRV-FM, fifth) and WXRT-FM (sixth). iHeartMedia placed two other stations in the top ten: V103 (who finished first) and Lite 93.9 (WLIT-FM, who finished fourth.)  More importantly, Rock 95.5 jumped from eighth place to second place in a tie with Spanish-language WOJO-FM in the 25-54 demo behind NPR’s WBEZ, who finished third overall and fell back to second place in the mornings behind WBBM-AM. 

While older-skewing rock stations were the dominant genre overall with three stations in the top ten, Hip-Hop and Top 40 stations fared much better in key younger demos with iHeartMedia’s WKSC taking the top spot in 18-34 followed by Audacy Top 40 rival B96 taking second and Hip-Hop outlet WGCI taking third. 


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