A couple of months ago, CNN’s forthcoming streaming channel was perceived as little more than a curiosity in the television news business: just another cable dinosaur trying to make the uneasy transition into the digital future.
In fact, the plan to start CNN+, which is expected to go live by late March, amounted to a late arrival to the subscription-based streaming party, more than three years after Fox News launched Fox Nation.
Then the hirings began.
In December, Chris Wallace, Fox News’s most decorated news anchor, said he was leaving his network home of 18 years for CNN+. Next came Audie Cornish, the popular co-host of “All Things Considered” on NPR, who said in January that she was leaving public radio to host a weekly streaming show.
notably violent language in urging a gathering of conservatives to publicly confront Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Jan. 6 Texts: Three prominent Fox News hosts — Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade — texted Mark Meadows during the Jan. 6 riot urging him to tell Donald Trump to try to stop it.
Chris Wallace Departs: The anchor’s announcement that he was leaving Fox News for CNN came as right-wing hosts have increasingly set the channel’s agenda.
Contributors Quit: Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes quit the network in protest over Tucker Carlson’s “Patriot Purge” special.
He is gambling that CNN+ can entice new viewers — and bring back some old ones. CNN’s traditional broadcast viewership has dropped significantly from a year ago, thanks to a post-Trump slump and waning audience interest, and the network recently fired its top-rated anchor, Chris Cuomo, amid an ethics scandal.
Mr. Zucker is turning to a strategy honed during his days as the executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show in the 1990s, mixing hard news with a heavy dose of lifestyle coverage and tips on how to bake a pear cobbler. In marketing materials, CNN+ has urged viewers to “grab a coffee” while flipping on shows promoted as “never finicky” and “the silver lining beyond today’s toughest headlines.”
struggled to find success with shows that riff on current events. One Netflix executive conceded in 2019 that topical programming was “a challenge” when it came to on-demand, watch-at-your-own-pace streamers.
Symone D. Sanders, a former adviser to President Biden. (NBC News also has separate digital offerings for hard news and lifestyle coverage.)
For news executives, finding a winning formula in the streaming game is now an urgent priority.
Streaming has supplanted cable as the main home delivery system for entertainment, often on the strength of addictive series like “Squid Game.” For a while, though, old-fashioned cable news clung on, with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News attracting record audiences in recent years. In case of emergency — a pandemic, civil unrest, a presidential election, a Capitol riot — viewers still tuned in en masse.
After former President Donald J. Trump left office, news ratings nose-dived and cable subscriptions continued to plummet — an estimated four million households dropped their paid TV subscriptions last year, according to the research firm MoffettNathanson.
Fox Nation and CNN+ both rely on a business model dependent on paid subscriptions, hence the efforts by both to generate a wide variety of programming.
“A subscriber every month only has to find one thing that they want,” Mr. Zucker said in the interview. “We don’t need the subscriber to be interested in everything we’re offering, but they need to be interested in something.”
Mr. Zucker said CNN+ was aiming at three buckets of potential subscribers. He is seeking to entice loyal CNN viewers into paying for streaming programs featuring hosts familiar from the cable channel: Anderson Cooper will have two, including one on parenting; Fareed Zakaria is helming a show examining historical events; and Jake Tapper will host “Jake Tapper’s Book Club,” in which he interviews authors.
The other would-be subscribers, Mr. Zucker said, are news and documentary fans who want more nonfiction television, as well as younger people who don’t pay for cable.
CNN, though, is not ignoring the needs of its flagship cable network, which ranked third last year behind Fox News and MSNBC in total audience.
Mr. Zucker recently reached out to representatives for Gayle King, the star CBS News anchor, about the prospect of her taking over the weekday 9 p.m. hour on CNN, said two people with knowledge of the approach. CNN has not named a permanent anchor for the prime-time slot since Mr. Cuomo was fired in December after revelations that he assisted with the efforts of his brother, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, to fend off sexual harassment allegations.
CNN+ is also expected to include the breaking news and political coverage that CNN viewers are accustomed to — a feature that could pose difficulties for the network down the road. CNN commands a high price from cable distributors, who may cry foul if CNN+ includes too much news programming that potentially competes with the cable offering. For instance, Wolf Blitzer, the host of “The Situation Room” on CNN at 6 p.m., will also appear on CNN+ to anchor a “traditional evening news show with a sleek, modern twist.”
CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, which is on the verge of a megamerger with Discovery Inc., appears willing to take the risk. The company is placing a significant financial bet on CNN+, budgeting for 500 additional employees, including producers, reporters, engineers and programmers, said Andrew Morse, CNN’s chief digital officer. The company is also renting an additional floor of its headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to accommodate the hires.
“What we’re building at CNN+ is not a side hustle,” Mr. Morse said.
Fox News once devoted its 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. time slots to relatively straightforward newscasts. Now those hours are filled by opinion shows led by hosts who denounce Democrats and defend the worldview of former President Donald J. Trump.
For seven years, Juan Williams was the lone liberal voice on “The Five,” the network’s popular afternoon chat show. On Wednesday, he announced that he was leaving the program, after months of harsh on-air blowback from his conservative co-hosts. Many Fox News viewers cheered his exit on social media.
Donna Brazile, the former Democratic Party chairwoman, was hired by Fox News with great fanfare in 2019 as a dissenting voice for its political coverage. She criticized Mr. Trump and spoke passionately about the Black Lives Matter movement, which other hosts on the network often demonized. Ms. Brazile has now left Fox News; last week, she quietly started a new job at ABC.
Onscreen and off, in ways subtle and overt, Fox News has adapted to the post-Trump era by moving in a single direction: Trumpward.
amounted to an existential moment for a cable channel that is home to Trump cheerleaders like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham: the 2020 election.
Fox News’s ratings fell sharply after the network made an early call on election night that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, would carry Arizona and later declared him the winner, even as Mr. Trump advanced lies about fraud. With viewers in revolt, the network moved out dissenting voices and put a new emphasis on hard-line right-wing commentary.
the network fired its veteran politics editor, Chris Stirewalt, who had been an onscreen face of the early call in Arizona for Mr. Biden. This month, it brought on a new editor in the Washington bureau: Kerri Kupec, a former spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s attorney general William P. Barr. She had no journalistic experience.
opinion shows at 7 and 11 — with segments that lament “cancel culture” and attack Mr. Biden — are attracting bigger audiences than the newscasts they replaced. And the niche right-wing network Newsmax has failed to sustain its postelection audience gains.
In some ways, the Murdochs are making a rational business decision by following the conservatives who have made up the heart of the Fox News audience; recent surveys show that more than three-quarters of Republicans want Mr. Trump to run in 2024.
But under Roger Ailes, the network’s founder, who shaped its look and feel, Fox News elevated liberal foils like Alan Colmes, a Democrat who shared equal billing in prime time with Mr. Hannity until the end of 2008, and moderates like Mr. Williams.
“Roger’s view was you had to have some unpredictability and you had to challenge the audience; you couldn’t just be reading Republican talking points every night,” said Susan R. Estrich, a Democratic lawyer and former commentator on Fox News who negotiated Mr. Ailes’s exit from the network amid his sexual misconduct scandal.
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Ms. Estrich recalled that Mr. Ailes had defended Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, attacked her in misogynist terms. Now, she said, “instead of trying to broaden their audience, Fox News is narrowing it and digging in.”
Rick Santorum, after he was criticized for remarks about Native Americans.
Ms. Brazile said she had left Fox News of her own accord.
“Fox never censored my views in any way,” she wrote in an email. “Everyone treated me courteously as a colleague.” Ms. Brazile added: “I believe it’s important for all media to expose their audiences to both progressive and conservative viewpoints. With the election and President Biden’s first 100 days behind us, I’ve accomplished what I wanted at Fox News.”
an outcry from the Anti-Defamation League.
A pro-Trump drift at Fox News is not new: George Will, a traditional conservative who opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy, lost his contributor contract in 2017. Shepard Smith, a news anchor who was tough on Mr. Trump, left in 2019.
Some Fox News journalists, though, say privately that they are increasingly concerned with the network’s direction. Kristin Fisher, one of the network’s rising stars in Washington and a White House correspondent, left Fox News last month despite the network’s effort to keep her. She had faced criticism from viewers in November after a segment in which she aggressively debunked lies about election fraud advanced by Mr. Trump’s lawyers.
The longtime Washington bureau chief, Bill Sammon, resigned in January after internal criticism over his handling of election coverage, around the time that Mr. Stirewalt was fired. (Mr. Stirewalt was let go along with roughly 20 digital journalists at Fox News, which the network attributed to a realignment of “business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era.”)
Mr. Sammon has effectively been replaced by Doug Rohrbeck, a producer with extensive news experience on Bret Baier’s newscast and Chris Wallace’s Sunday show. Still, some Fox journalists were surprised when the network hired Ms. Kupec, the former Barr spokeswoman, to work under Mr. Rohrbeck. (In 2019, CNN hired Sarah Isgur, the spokeswoman for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as a political editor. After protests from staff, she was shifted to an on-air role and later left the network.)
Fox News International, a streaming service available in 37 countries in Asia and Europe.
Despite continuing criticism from liberals, Fox News remains a financial juggernaut for the Murdoch empire; it is expected to earn record advertising revenues this year, the network said.
Even as its programming decisions seem aimed at attracting Trump supporters, Fox News does face one roadblock: Mr. Trump. The former president has maintained his stinging criticism of Fox News, which, he has claimed, betrayed him by calling the election for Mr. Biden.
On Friday, after criticism from Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, Mr. Trump wrote that “Fox totally lost its way and became a much different place” after the Murdochs appointed Mr. Ryan to the Fox Corporation board.