CNN+ shutdown leaves axed staffers ‘aghast and furious’

The shocking announcement that CNN+ would be shutting down operations less than a month after it launched has left out-of-work staffers “aghast and furious” over the company’s handling of what sources inside the network call “an absolute debacle.”

“This is f–king crazy, it is nuts,” a CNN insider told The Post.

“This literally rivals the epic disaster of Quibi,” the insider said, referring to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s short-lived streaming platform that went out of business just seven months after it launched in April 2020.

CNN+ — which one insider estimated the network spent $300 million launching and between $100 million and $200 million advertising — will cease streaming for good at the end of the month.

CNN+ logo
CNN’s announcement that it would shut down struggling streaming service CNN+ less than a month after its launch infuriated fired staffers, according to sources.
CNN+ via AP

“All the CNN talent were basically doing double duty — Don Lemon, just announced his show a few days ago,” one staffer lamented. “But the writing was on the wall when CNN+ advertising was pulled a few days ago.”

Chris Licht, CNN’s newly installed CEO, who replaced the disgraced Jeff Zucker, broke the news to staffers at a noon meeting Thursday in New York.

Network insiders were horrified to learn that all junior staffers at the streaming service were let go. The roughly 300 staffers were offered six months’ severance as well as first dibs on job opportunities within CNN, according to sources.

Staffers were angry that junior employees were let go while big-ticket acquisitions will likely be reassigned within the company.
Staffers were angry that junior employees were let go while big-ticket acquisitions will likely be reassigned within the company.
Getty Images CNN+

CNN+’s big-ticket acquisitions, meanwhile — including former Fox News star Chris Wallace and ex-MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt — are expected to be reassigned to the cable news mothership or to other platforms within the Warner Bros. Discovery media empire.

Sources told The Post that CNN “overspent on talent” by giving Wallace $9 million per year while Hunt was lured away from MSNBC with an annual paycheck of $1 million.

Hunt paid tribute to the “world-class” journalists at CNN+, tweeting: “I am so incredibly proud to be able to call them colleagues.”

She tweeted that her new “job” for the “foreseeable future” would be to help laid-off staffers find work elsewhere.

“If your organization would like a chance to benefit from their talents, my DMs are open,” Hunt tweeted.

Chris Wallace, who left Fox News and joined CNN+ for a reported $9 million annual salary, could take over the 9pm time slot vacated by Chris Cuomo.
Chris Wallace, who left Fox News and joined CNN+ for a reported $9 million annual salary, could take over the 9 p.m. time slot vacated by Chris Cuomo.
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With CNN+ shutting down, the prevailing sentiment in the newsroom is that Wallace will likely take over Chris Cuomo’s old 9 p.m. time slot. The Post has reached out to Wallace seeking comment.

“The big people will likely be saved, but what about everybody else, the people who do the real work?” the insider told The Post.

“The producers, showrunners? Some will get six months’ severance, others will not.”

Insiders fumed that the corporate suits at Warner Bros. Discovery laid off staffers so soon after the streaming service started operations.

“Many people left their stable jobs at CNN to go to CNN+ and then they pull it right after launch?” the source said.

“Everyone is aghast and furious.”

Hunt left MSNBC and joined CNN+ for a reported salary of $1 million per year.
Hunt left MSNBC and joined CNN+ for a reported salary of $1 million per year.
Getty Images for SXSW

Employees are also nursing resentment toward their new boss, Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav, because he recently led workers to believe that he would be giving CNN+ a chance, according to the insider.

“The irony is that Zaslav came in a few weeks ago and told the CNN+ staff they would soon be running the world, ahead of CNN anchors on TV,” the source said.

Chris Licht, the newly installed CEO of CNN, broke the news to staffers on Thursday.
Chris Licht, the newly installed CEO of CNN, broke the news to staffers on Thursday.
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“Is this the way David Zaslav operates?”

The source said CNN should have kept to its bread-and-butter 24-hour news operation rather than venture into the streaming space.

“CNN should have just stuck to what they do well, which is hard news, not Anderson Cooper giving parenting advice,” the insider said.

“I might have declined to pay for it, but I would have tuned in if it could have been an app to see live TV.”

“CNN+’s demise has been in the news,” another source said.

“The bigger question is: Why did [WarnerMedia CEO] Jason Kilar and [CNN boss] Jeff Zucker keep moving with this? They could have punted it.”

Insiders criticized Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav for sending staffers mixed messages about the future of CNN+.
Insiders criticized Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav for sending staffers mixed messages about the future of CNN+.
Getty Images

After Zaslav took over the newly merged entity that combined Discovery with WarnerMedia, it became clear CNN would shift away from its opinion-dominated programming and more toward straight reporting.

“Given what the new mandate is, which is hard news, why would you have decided the CNN+ programming would be effectively softer programming?” the insider said.

A source close to Discovery said new management reviewed CNN+’s numbers once the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery closed earlier this month.

They realized that CNN+’s massive $1 billion investment wouldn’t justify its subscriber growth. 

“These kinds of vertices don’t scale,” the source said, noting that Discovery has experience launching streaming services across its various channels.

The company’s long-term broader strategy is to merge the Discovery+ streaming service with that of HBO Max.

Source