2022’s Most Under-Reported Media Story: How NBC News Now Succeeded Where CNN+ Failed – Forbes

NBC’s streaming news platform, NBC News Now, had 50% year-over-year growth in 2022
2022 will surely be remembered as the year when one of television’s most storied brands invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a splashy new streaming service, only to kill it off barely three weeks after launch. But the spectacular failure of CNN+ has overshadowed another story: the rise of NBC News Now, which has quietly become the fastest-growing streaming news network in the country.
NBC News Now launched in 2019, and has done what CNN+ only dreamed of doing: turning a profit. This year, NBC News Now saw its average monthly viewership continue to accelerate, hitting 34 million hours—up 55% from 2021. “It has been an incredible year for us,” said Janelle Rodriguez, senior vice president at NBC and head of NBC News Now. “We have put our top talent into this space to become the biggest and the best news network in the streaming space right now.”
NBC News Now’s nightly newscast, “Top Story with Tom Llamas,” is part of a streaming lineup that … [+] includes 10 hours of live programming each day.
Last year, as media attention focused on a string of delays in launching CNN+, NBC Universal News Group chairman Cesar Conde announced NBC would make big investments in digital and streaming, hiring hundreds and expanding original and live programming. NBC News Now will end 2022 with a daily lineup of more than 10 hours of live programming—more than any other streaming news network—and a slate of original programming including 52 specials and documentaries.
Back in March, NBC News Now became the first U.S.-based streaming news network to secure international distribution in Europe, where viewers can watch NBC News Now programming via Sky and Virgin Media in the U.K.
Rodriguez believes NBC News Now’s growth will continue in 2023, and 2022 may have been a turning point—the year when NBC established itself as the dominant player in the streaming news. “We’re not going to pull back,” she told me. “I think while other people are really struggling to figure out both the economics and the editorial programming in this space, we are really clear about what we want to do. And I think the audience has responded to that.”
An advertisement for CNN+ is displayed in Manhattan on April 21, 2022 in New York City. Only three … [+] weeks after its launch, CNN announced that it’s new streaming service would be shut down. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The success of NBC News Now suggests that it wasn’t the business case that killed CNN+, it was the execution. CNN’s vision for streaming involved making a bet that with the right programming—and the established CNN brand—the network could find enough viewers willing to pay for one more subscription service. The network predicted CNN+ would turn a profit within four years—with an investment over that time of about $1 billion.
That was ultimately money CNN’s new owners were not willing to pay, and soon after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger was finalized, all further investment in CNN+ ended. CNN had already spent an estimated $300 million in splashy programming like Stanley Tucci eating his way around Italy and Eva Longoria exploring the history and culture of Mexico. The network had also hired hundreds—correspondents, producers and technical staff—along with high profile hosts like NPR’s Audie Cornish and Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
But for all the money spent, the message just wasn’t clear to consumers: was this news? Or what, exactly? CNN+ promised shows featuring Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper, but Tapper’s show would be about books, and Anderson Cooper Full Circle would involve the AC360 host “interviewing authors, entertainers, mindfulness experts and community leaders, while highlighting the stories happening outside of Washington.”
NBC News Now isn’t confusing people about what it’s mission is. This is NBC News, period. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd has a show on NBC News Now, but it’s not about cooking or books—it’s about politics, and it’s called Meet the Press Now. You’ll also find the network’s NBC Nightly News franchise represented, with programs like NBC Nightly News Special: Inside Ukraine, which built on and expanded reporting first aired on Lester Holt’s evening newscast.
As an NBC promotional effort back in February made clear, NBC News Now was bringing NBC’s journalists to you anywhere and anytime—without having to sign up and pay for another streaming service:
Outdoor advertising for NBC News Now in New York’s Times Square
“The breadth and depth of NBC News and the journalists we have is just incredible, so it gives us that extra space to really go deep on topics as we travel the world in our normal reporting,” Rodriguez told me, stressing that NBC News Now offers viewers everything NBC News is known for, just delivered in a way that younger consumers expect: when they want it, and how they want it. NBC News Now viewers, the network said, watch an hour at a time and tend to be significantly younger than the older viewers watching cable and broadcast news.
“There’s a huge audience out there that’s been under-served by the national networks,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s the space where we live. And what we’ve found is that once people find us, they come back. So our three, four or five-day-a-week viewer rate is very high.”
NBC News correspondent Tom Costello, whose documentary, “Battlefield Space,” debuts tonight on NBC … [+] News Now
For longtime NBC journalist Tom Costello, whose special, Battlefield Space: To The Moon and Beyond debuts tonight, NBC News Now offers a chance to bring his reporting not to new viewers, but also to people who know his reporting and want more. “The beauty is that NBC News Now gives us the forum to go deep and not necessarily be constrained by the clock that is always ticking when you’re doing a spot for Nightly News or Today,” he told me. “It gives us the opportunity to reach out to an audience that is very keenly interested in these subjects and will stick with us as we try to provide all the details and the nuance and all the layers to this kind of story.”
A graphic for the NBC News Now documentary “Battlefield Space: To The Moon and Beyond”
It also means a story like Costello’s special on space won’t vanish, but will continue to be available to viewers who want to stream it, whether that’s this week, next year, or beyond. “That’s the beauty of doing a documentary that’s online, it’s always there,” he said. Those who do watch tonight may be surprised by China’s plans to build a permanent base on the moon by 2030. “They may well eclipse the United States within the next 20 years,” he said. “Military leaders are very concerned about that.”

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