A uniquely shitty situation

“This is a uniquely shitty situation” – CNN’s Chairman and CEO


A few weeks ago, after a $300M investment, CNN+ shut down after operating for just three weeks.


It’s an extremely sad story for the approximately 300 employees that have been laid off, and while hindsight is 20/20, a few things jumped out at me which might be relevant to pharma as it thinks about digital.


Here’s what I gather happened:


🤔 CNN hired a ‘Big Five’ consultancy that sold them on the idea that streaming will move their brand forward


🤔 CNN leadership decided to build CNN+ from the ground up and acquired Canopy, a company specializing in personalized app and content development


🤔 Separate operating divisions were created – one for CNN’s core digital team and one for CNN+


🤔 A few months before the launch, CNN’s president, a huge advocate of CNN+, resigned


🤔 The business case was somewhat murky and unclear, with powerful internal skeptics - two months before launch, Discovery CEO (CNN’s new owner) noted that he hasn’t yet “gotten a business review on what CNN+ is going to be and how it’s going to be offered”


🤔 In the background of the launch, a merger between WarnerMedia (CNN’s old parent company) and Discovery was happening but CNN management pushed ahead with the launch rather than wait for the OK from its new corporate leaders


🤔 At an internal meeting, CNN’s new CEO compared the service to a residential property that had been constructed without the input of its intended owner: “then the new owner came in and said: ‘What a beautiful house! But I need an apartment”.


At the end of the day, it seems that there was an internal corporate tug-of-war over:


🤼 Dueling beliefs in the future of digital media and its importance to CNN’s core business


🤼 CNN+’s business case and how this investment compares to CNN’s Core business


🤼 Whether continued investment should be made in this $300M ‘experiment’ or whether the project should be quickly sunset and resources reallocated elsewhere (we know what happened)...


If you’re a pharma executive doing digital, does any of the above sounds familiar?


Happy to brainstorm if you feel your digital initiative is headed toward becoming a cautionary Harvard Case Study...

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