CNN+ reportedly signed up 100K users in first week

By Michael P. Hill Article may include affiliate links

Bloomberg is out with a report that CNN+ managed to sign up 100,000 subscribers in its first week.

This report comes on the heels of a separate CNBC report that the service is only averaging about 10,000 viewers per day. Both figures are attributed to unnamed sources.

In theory, both figures could be correct — though, if so, it would suggest that 90% of subscribers aren’t using the service on a regular enough basis to tilt that purported 10,000 viewership figure higher.

CNN has declined multiple requests for comment from multiple outlets other than to say it is “happy” with the launch and has declined to provide any metrics. It’s also since launched on Roku, seen as a key opportunity to attract subscribers, since it’s the most popular smart TV platform out there.

While 100,000 subscribers is relatively low in comparison to streamers such as Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, CNN+ is a much different service that’s likely to attract a much different audience.

Its content library is small compared to other major streamers and it only produces a handful of daily shows. It also doesn’t allow access to the CNN linear feed unless the user has a separate, paid TV subscription to unlock the TV Everywhere functionality it has had for years.

CNN+ is also only a few weeks old, whereas most of the others it’s being compared to have been around for longer, giving them more time to sign up more customers.

Bloomberg notes that comparing CNN+ signups to other paid news subscription services, such as those offered by The New York Times, might make more sense.

The NYT has managed to get nearly 8 million people to pay for access to unlimited articles and other content it has behind a paywall — but that’s taken over a decade to build up and also has the advantage of luring in readers with a limited number of free articles a month, which is essentially “free” advertising for paid plans.

After that limit is capped, users are shown a prompt to signup for a paid account, often with a special introductory rate.

Fox Nation, which has a similar price structure to CNN+’s list price and offers a growing library of on demand content targeted at conservative viewers, has never released its subscriber count, though some reports have indicated the service is profitable.

Fox Nation also includes next-day on demand versions of its popular primetime shows without needing a pay TV login.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s sources say that “5 Things with Kate Bolduan” and “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” have emerged as some of the more popular shows on the streamer.

Axios reported that CNN had originally planned on spending $1 billion to launch and market CNN+ and hoped to break even within four years.

Internal projections had reportedly estimated 2 million people would be signed up after one year of running CNN+ with that soaring to 15 to 18 million after four years.

Those targets for CNN+ might seem ambitious considering it took The New York Times over 10 years to get to 8 million paying subscribers, though back when the NYT launched its offering in 2011, the idea of paying for news online was relatively new.

CNN has reportedly already spent $300 million on the service, including hiring pricey talent from rival networks as well as a team of behind the scenes staffers — but Axios’ reporting suggests the service could be facing massive cuts due, at least in part, to both lower than expected signups and the just-completed merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery.

All that said, it’s probably a logical question to ask why the alleged leaked numbers are seemingly all over the map.

First, it’s likely that CNN knows exactly how many subscribers it has since it has to be able to track their sign-ins and bill them, though it’s holding that data close to the vest. It’s further likely that CNN is able to know almost exactly how many people are watching what shows and for how long, since its servers are likely configured to track that sort of data.

However, since CNN, like many streamers, is opting not to release exact subscriber counts, any calculations or estimates made need to be based on data that’s being leaked by insiders or, possibly, estimates from third party data providers.

These sources could have varying degrees to access to metrics or might be conveying only a snapshot of data or figures with fuzzy definitions that make it hard to know exactly what the analytics represent.

For example, the 10,000 average viewer figure could be representative of a wide range of data — ranging from a subscriber who watches at least, say, 5 minutes a day to one who watches at least 30 minutes a day. Obviously, there’s a big difference between those numbers.

Even the term “subscriber” could be a bit hazy based on the reporting so far — does that include free trials or paid subscriptions? CNN+ is offering a 50% discount off its normal $5.99 price to people who sign up in its first four weeks but there’s also a free trial — though those two offers can’t be combined.

So, it could boil down to what offer is more appealing to consumers: Pay nothing to see what the fuss is about or sign up for a discounted $3.99 price to do the same knowing you can still cancel at any time (the latter still requires a card number and letting CNN charge the $3.99 at least once).

Ultimately, much of the data being thrown around, whether correct or not, isn’t as important as another metric: Churn.

In subscription businesses, this means the number of people who cancel their subscriptions each month compared to how many sign up.

Ideally, you want to minimize the number of cancellations while also adding a healthy number of new signups, but in many businesses defections are inevitable, so the next best thing can be to keep the number of people signing up each month higher than the number of people who call it quits.