MATHER: NEWS & INSIGHTS
ATLANTA, GA | August 01, 2022—
NBCUniversal news streamer NBC News Now built steady growth, execs say, with a non-partisan POV and ad-supported model. Here’s how it outlasted the shuttered CNN+.
When the $300 million news app CNN+ shuttered a month after launch, it confirmed many industry onlookers’ belief that a subscription model that charges viewers for
streaming news is a non-starter.
While there were many reasons for the demise of CNN+, NBCUniversal’s 24/7 service NBC News Now has been a bright spot among news streamers, offering a potential alternative model in its ad-supported, slow-build approach.
Entering its fourth year, NBC News Now is profitable and adding viewers with growth month-on-month and year-on-year, said NBC News President Noah Oppenheim and SVP of Editorial Janelle Rodriguez.
News Now streams on NBCUniversal’s Peacock and is widely available on platforms and devices including
the Roku Channel
and Tubi. NBC News declined to share audience numbers with Insider but said that in terms of hours streamed, its preferred metric, the first quarter of this year was its best on record with nearly 100 million hours streamed; March was its third strongest month on record, the company said, with more than 40 million hours watched.
And NBC News is backing the service with marketing dollars — including a flight of Times Square billboards and a Super Bowl spot this year to promote the unit. The streamer also hosts some 10 hours a day of live coverage, another sign of NBC News’ investment.
NBC’s free-to-watch news streamer launched in May 2019 to reach consumers who had given up cable. It started with few resources and an abundance of emerging talent like Alison Morris and Savannah Sellers, host of Snap’s “Stay Tuned.” It now employs almost 200 staffers and features some of NBC News’ biggest names, including Chuck Todd and Tom Llamas.
While CNN+ relied on documentaries and lifestyle programming like “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and Fox News has leaned into lifestyle on its Fox Nation streamer with shows like “What Made America Great,” News Now has focused on traditional news, weather, and sports. And unlike MSNBC, which hired Biden Administration spokeswomen Jen Psaki and Symone Sanders, News Now brands itself as straight down the middle.
In a sign of that commitment, Todd’s “Meet the Press Daily” will move from MSNBC to New Now June 6, joining the likes of Hallie Jackson, who appears on both MSNBC and News Now. Other evening anchors include Llamas and Joshua Johnson. When news breaks, watching News Now can feel like online version of cable news channel MSNBC; covering the Texas school shooting, network reporters including Llamas and Morgan Chesky provided news to both outlets.
“What is gratifying is the extent to which there is a significant and growing audience for traditional non-partisan objective, middle-of-the-road journalism,” Oppenheim, who also oversees NBC’s broadcast news shows, but not MSNBC, told Insider. “You don’t have to cater to the polarized extremes and you don’t have to inject opinion into your programming — you can just go out there and do great journalism.”
CNN meanwhile is also shunning the partisan approach under new boss Chris Licht, who is developing the new streaming strategy for the news operation. CNN’s new parent, Warner Bros. Discovery, shut down CNN+ after determining it wouldn’t likely be a good return on investment and didn’t match the company’s broader streaming strategy, which is focused on one platform combining content from all the companies properties.
Asked what can be learned from the decision to close CNN+, Rodriguez, a former senior CNN executive, expressed sympathy for the people who were impacted but said, “The end result speaks for itself and I go back to not losing focus. What makes us unique is the news, not travel and not food.”
Oppenheim and Rodriguez said their straight news approach has attracted younger viewers and advertisers.
With subscriber fatigue setting in for streaming services, media companies are increasingly looking to the ad-supported model for streaming. But there, too, lies uncertainty. It’s unclear if advertising will be enough to support big streaming news operations. The ad market is heading for a softening, which could dampen advertisers’ willingness to spend.
As NBC News bets on streaming’s future with News Now, it also faces the question of whether grabbing viewers on streaming will cannibalize the mothership’s bread-and-butter business of cable distribution fees.
David Clinch, a former CNN executive who is head of Global Partnerships at Mather Economics, which advises news companies on subscription management, wonders what the long-term future of streaming news is without the direct-to-consumer subscription relationship CNN tried to pioneer. He also questions whether news streamers are just swapping cable operator distributor relationships for ones with big tech companies, which take a cut of their revenue. (NBCUniversal is owned by cable operator Comcast.)
“News networks are doubling down on their ad-supported approach,” Clinch said. “They still face the challenge that the product may not be distinct enough, differentiated enough to ensure that the audience will stay. And they still face the question of whether or not anybody will pay directly for those kinds of services if ad-supported models are challenged.”
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