When Quibi shut down after just six months post-launch, its creators blamed the pandemic After all, a media platform created for people on the go was incompatible with a workforce stuck at home.
Conversely, longform streaming services thrived throughout the pandemic, with Netflix gaining 37 million subscribers in 2020 alone and Hulu revenue increasing by nearly a billion dollars that same year. During the pandemic, streaming news platforms like ABC News Live, CBS News Streaming, NBC News Now, Yahoo Finance and Bloomberg QuickTake became go-to resources for live breaking news coverage, providing audiences free 24/7 news reports on any device. But this week seemed to mark a turning point for streaming services, and an unforeseen pandemic can hardly be to blame this time.
“Why Netflix is suddenly losing subscribers” and “CNN+ streaming service will shut down weeks after its start” are just a two of hundreds of streaming-service related headlines to emerge in recent days. Naturally, a number of clients have expressed legitimate concerns in the wake of these reports, but I strongly urge all to resist pulling their media and pitches from any streaming platforms yet. Why? Because the recent shortcomings of Netflix and CNN+ have everything to do with operational misjudgments and nothing to do with the future of streaming, a medium that is here to stay.
In the case of CNN+, for example, the subscription-only news streaming service launched with an introductory $5.99 per month fee in an already crowded space including ABC News, NBC News and CBS News, each of which had large audience bases and streamed for free using an ad-based model. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that CNN+ struggled to get out the gate. In addition to finding little consumer demand — the service reportedly garnered only 150,000 subscribers — CNN+ had the misfortune of launching while its parent company, Warner Media, merged with Discovery, the latter of which was resistant to standalone streaming channels. Yet despite plans to shutter the CNN+ platform, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has made it clear that streaming remains well within the future of the company, reportedly telling stakeholders that he wants to see the network’s content streamed from a single, integrated service platform.
The takeaway? Not every platform will succeed or grow every single quarter, but streaming will continue to be a relevant way to reach consumers. This is especially true for news broadcasting. Online news platforms remain important for clients to factor into their media strategies, as streaming news platforms have tapped into a growing and influential audience. Pew reports that of the 86% of Americans who get their news from a digital device, over a quarter do so directly from a network’s website or app. Additionally, platforms like ABC News Live claimed more than 23 million monthly viewers in 2020 and CBS News Streaming logged 1.01 billion streams in 2021, reporting a median viewer age of 37, nearly three decades younger than the average cable news viewer.
In today’s news landscape, landing a story placement on any large network streaming platform should be considered a top-tier placement. In January, CBS News combined its two separate broadcast and streaming organizations into one network, under one name CBS News. There is little difference if a client’s interview airs first on CBS Mornings or CBS News Streaming. Once the interview airs on either platform, it will find its largest reach and lifespan on CBSNews.com.
As always, services that want to remain successful must keep up with the ever-changing needs of their consumers. Consumers right now have made it clear that they do not need a subscription-only news streaming service; they want free news services that meet them when and where they are. The downfall of CNN+ is not a sign of things to come but rather a warning for future streaming platforms. News organizations must integrate their linear and streaming products to move their legacy networks into the future. Media consultants should encourage their clients to embrace the streaming movement as top-tier media and take advantage of opportunities to reach a rapidly growing audience, or risk being left behind by competitors.
Adam Sechrist is an SVP in BCW’s corporate affairs practice with more than 15 years of broadcast and streaming news experience.