An ill-timed team building scheme resulted in several CNN+ staffers receiving gift boxes filled with network-branded gear right after they were fired, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"This is an incredible time to be part of CNN," read one note. "Build relationships and take time to connect with colleagues and learn so that you make the most of your time here."
The boxes included various items, including pens, food containers, a popcorn machine, and headphones, according to people who received the gifts which added insult to injury after hundreds of staffers left jobs elsewhere to be part of the failed streaming service.
The ill-timed gifts, which CNN says were sent mistakenly, were another gut punch for staffers that had bet on CNN+—drawn by the promise of growth in streaming—only to watch it collapse in epic fashion.
CNN’s short-lived experiment is the story of a $300 million-plus bet gone wrong. It’s about power plays in a big corporate merger—the union of Discovery with CNN-parent WarnerMedia that was consummated in April—and starkly different visions about the future of the streaming business. -WSJ
Around 400 staffers were recruited to work for the doomed endeavor - which became one of the first things on the chopping block following AT&T's spinoff of WarnerMedia in a $43 million merger with Discovery, forming Warner Bros. Discovery.
The $5.99 per month service only attracted around 150,000 subscribers in its first few weeks, and was being watched by just 5,000 to 10,000 people at any given time, people familiar with the situation told the Journal.
Over a dozen people said that CNN+ was internally referred to as the network's "Apollo Mission" - as if they were landing someone on the moon - only to realize that it was rapidly crashing.
Many employees of the streaming service started in the past six months or even just a few weeks before the service launched. Several said they left stable jobs or freelancing gigs.
CNN+ staffers who are not placed in other internal roles will get six months of severance so long as they don’t leave the company within 90 days. -WSJ
Many staffers said they were frustrated at how fast Discovery pulled the plug - calling it a snap judgement made by a company that doesn't have experience in the news industry. That said, some staffers said they were concerned before launch about the streaming service's model - with one producer noting that CNN+ had launched without a free trial, such as Apple TV+ and other services.
CNN+ also didn't have any live programming from the CNN TV channel, which couldn't happen without the support of cable providers due to violating distribution contracts. They did reportedly plan to add live TV, however that obviously didn't pan out.
"This is a uniquely sh–ty situation," said Chris Licht, CNN's new head that was brought in to replace disgraced CEO Jeff Zucker, who resigned in February after Chris Cuomo's legal team outed his long-time relationship with a subordinate, chief marketing officer Allison Gollust.
The last day of operation for CNN+ was April 28.