CNN is launching its first direct-to-consumer subscription service Tuesday: For $5.99 per month, CNN+ will give subscribers access to daily live programming as well as a library of documentaries and nonfiction shows, including classics like the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”
CNN isn’t just relying on major on-air talent like Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Sara Sidner to host original shows for CNN+. The network is also attempting to more closely involve its audience with a new interactive format called “Interview Club” that CTO Robyn Peterson described as a way to let the new service stand out from its competition.
“We believe that consumers deserve and want something that's more than just a Netflix with news content,” Peterson told Protocol last week.
Part Reddit AMA, part “CNN Town Hall,” “Interview Club” invites CNN+ subscribers to submit questions that then get answered by interviewed guests. The CNN+ team plans to produce two to three of these audience-driven interviews per day, and will solicit questions ahead of time as well as live while the show airs on the streaming network.
And while “Interview Club” may look a lot like a TV adaptation of crowdsourced online interviews, Peterson pointed to CNN’s town halls, including those with experts like Anthony Fauci during the pandemic, as the primary inspiration. “When news happens, we all have a million questions, especially on those kinds of stories [that] relate to something that's happening in our lives,” he said. “This is a way to make news much more of a learning experience.”
“Interview Club” invites CNN+ subscribers to submit questions that then get answered by interviewed guests. Image: CNN+
Granted, TV networks frequently tap into their online audiences, crowdsourcing questions for interviews via Twitter. However, CNN+ is attempting to more closely build this type of interactivity into the product itself. Registered subscribers can browse their past questions and then quickly jump to the part of the interview in which their question was answered.
Subscribers can also vote on questions, Reddit-style, but CNN+ isn’t relying on crowdsourcing alone for moderation. “All of our questions are moderated and approved by our moderation panel,” said CNN+ senior product manager Kari McMinn.
CNN is hoping that these interviews will be an onramp to the paid service, and plans to have anchors of its cable network promote them on air to point viewers to the streaming service. “You'll see some pretty big names come through here,” Peterson said.
Speaking of which: CNN+ is being made available through CNN’s existing mobile and TV apps at launch, but the network is treating the property as a completely separate service for which both cord cutters and cable customers have to pay extra. Peterson said that existing CNN fans were one of the service’s target audience, but he also pointed to news junkies willing to pay for other online services as a potential growth engine.
“We look at The New York Times a lot. I think they've done a wonderful job in text,” Peterson said. “We think the video space is wide open.”