The Reason CNN+ Failed
Plus the man behind the iBeer app, and my hopes and fears for Twitter
Hello there! Thank you for reading Clicked. If you haven’t already, please subscribe today. Clicked is 100% free and comes out every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Eastern.
Common themes within Clicked include technology, news, internet wonders, the creative process, media, and cool things humans are creating online.
CNN+ Shuts Down
The average housefly can live for around 28 days, which means that there are literal bugs that will have outlived CNN+ as they close their streaming service on April 30th.
An Explanation of What Happened
Better journalists than me have explained what happened with CNN+, and I would much rather you learn the details from them.
Two come to mind after reading dozens of articles on the matter:
Alex Sherman, writing for CNBC, explained the timeline of CNN+ leading to its demise; it is worth your time to read in its entirety.
Chris Licht wasn’t supposed to start his new job as CNN’s chief until May.
But on Thursday he found himself addressing about 400 full-time CNN+ staffers, some in person and some through a remote video feed… Licht told employees the project they’d been working on for the past six to nine months, the subscription streaming service CNN+, was ending April 30...He acknowledged that many would lose their jobs.
- Alex Sherman, CNBC
John Koblin wrote in his New York Times piece explaining the difficulty of launching CNN+ during a merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery. This merger could be part of the reason we learned about the measly 10,000 daily users I shared in my last issue of Clicked. That reason, allegedly, wasn’t because a disgruntled CNN employee leaked the numbers, but rather from Discovery executives trying to shut the service down through negative PR.
CNN executives were dismayed. And they grew suspicious of their new superiors from Discovery, believing they had leaked the data to create a pretext to shut down the service.
- John Koblin, The New York Times
This isn’t the whole story, there are still some underreported things missing here, the first being the other group that deserves the blame.
The McKinsey Problem
Sherman mentioned this firm in his explainer article, but McKinsey & Company deserves a fair share of the blame for CNN+ shutting down. Their track record should have been a dead giveaway.
For those unfamiliar with McKinsey, here's a quick blurb about them from Wikipedia (sources are linked):
McKinsey has been either directly involved in, or closely associated with, a number of notable scandals, involving Enron in 2001, Galleon in 2009, Valeant in 2015, Saudi Arabia in 2018, China in 2018, ICE in 2019, an internal conflict of interest in 2019, and Purdue Pharma in 2019, among others.
One more thing you can now add to the list of “others” is CNN+. It turns out that CNN hired McKinsey to consult on the service’s launch.
McKinsey essentially told CNN what they wanted to hear, claiming they would accrue 2 million US subscribers in the first year and 15-18 million after four years. CNN reportedly garnered just 150,000 subscribers in the first few weeks.
That said, it was only getting about 10,000 daily users. Something doesn’t add up here, and it is evident that McKinsey was not just off by a bit but utterly incorrect. The problem here is that McKinsey has already moved on to its next project without any consequences or repercussions coming to them.
One could argue that getting 150,000 subscribers in the first month is excellent. To that, I say if you compare it to HBO Max, which has over 75 million subscribers (including cable subscribers), CNN+ isn’t even worth Warner’s breath, and the Discovery execs knew it.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that CNN+ is officially shutting down this Saturday.
That’s where many people stopped reporting, but I think that the people directly affected by this decision deserve some light shed on them as well. Hundreds of people are now without a job because of a shitty consultant firm and bad decisions made by the executives upstairs.
CNN pulled the rug right out from under hundreds of workers, many of which joined after recruitment from CNN. They decided to overturn their lives and, for some, move across the country. All employees look like they will be getting 90 days' pay as severance. From there, they have three months to figure out what is next within the company, or they must hit the road.
Some will be lucky and find employment within CNN and Warner Bros. Discovery, but not all. Journalists take risks every day, but I don’t think anyone who accepted a position at CNN+ would have foreseen just how fast things turned on its head.
The crew members that were hired to work in the new studios and the marketing team are all but surely out of a job, and there was no warning. In fact, Chris Licht, CNN’s chief, was shaking hands with staffers just days before announcing they are no longer employed.
The Times is reporting that those who do not find a job within the company will be getting an additional six months of severance, which is a good start in my opinion.
If you think that 9 months of severance is worth a few weeks of work you clearly aren’t caught up on the difficulty of finding a place to live. Whether it is an apartment or a house you are going to have a hard time finding something within 6 months and you will most likely be paying more than you want. My heart goes out to those affected and if anyone finds a GoFundMe or something similar to help those affected I will happily donate to help them.
Elon Bought Twitter, What’s Next?
In case you missed it, Elon Musk just bought Twitter for $44 billion.
The deal isn’t done, and Elon can walk away from this for a cool $1 billion, but everyone and their mother is speculating what is next for Twitter. The question remains to be: what changes will come once Musk takes the helm?
Depending on which side of the aisle you are on — assuming you care about Twitter — you’re either excited about the return of “free speech” to Twitter or you’re worried that Twitter will become a cesspit; that it will be full of trolls, right-wing conspiracists, and fascists.
If there’s one thing that you will see scarce online it’s someone between these two extremes. With that in mind, I present to you my hopes and fears regarding Elon buying Twitter.
Twitter removes all spam bots from the site
Moderation is still within the platform where those who continually break Twitter guidelines get banned.
Twitter turns away from ad revenue and instead moves to subscription revenue. I will happily pay for Twitter if it’s a subscription service.
Twitter axes all moderation, which would allow for any and all hate speech on the platform.
Twitter’s API is closed off and forces users to migrate to the official Twitter app (I use the official app, but I find many 3rd party Twitter clients both beautiful and necessary).
Ads are ramped up within the app and become required in 3rd party apps
I feel that in 8-9 months we will see what happens and whether I was worried for nothing or my fears have come to fruition.
“Hey Siri, set a reminder…”
The Man Behind iBeer
Steve Sheraton went from making a silly video online where he was drinking a beer with his iPhone into a full-fledged app, which then became a breakout star when the App Store launched.
Before the App Store was even a concept, Sheraton started selling the beer-drinking video file for $2.99. “It was just a little video file that people had to hardwire in and download via iTunes,” he says. “But I probably made around $2,000 a day for the longest time from that.”
By the time Apple came knocking, Sheraton knew he was onto something — he just needed to figure out how to code the video to Apple’s new device. “I have a lot of experience in film and photography, and I wanted to make the beer look as realistic as possible,” he explains. “So rather than doing animation, I chose to make assets from looped videos and image sequences — that’s why the foam looks so real.”
Sheraton then programmed the looped videos and image sequence to interact with the iPhone’s accelerometer. “The accelerometer is constantly measuring the phone’s angle versus the horizon, so by tethering the line between the liquid and the foam to the horizon, you can move your phone in any direction and it looks like it’s filled with liquid,” he tells me. “From there, the rest is just a series of ‘if statements,’ so ‘if the tilt of the phone goes beyond X,’ then the program should switch to different loops of foam and liquid that make it look like the phone is emptying.”
Sheraton called it iBeer, developed under the name of his company Hottrix, and priced it again at $2.99. “We shot to first place [in the App Store] on the very first day and stayed there for about a year,” he says. “Apart from its visual humor and sort of appealing to the lowest common denominator, iBeer was a large success because it allowed people to show their friends what the phone was capable of.
Without spoiling it, Myers goes more in-depth about what happens to Sheraton after iBeer’s success.
If you read the MEL article and find that interesting, Sheraton recently did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit where he talks more about iBeer’s success, what he is doing now, and his feelings on developing apps out today.