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The ace up the CNN+ sleeve is you

When CNN+ launches this week, on March 29 — it’s actually soft-launched early in web browsers — it’ll do so with a slew of shows and a phalanx of faces you recognize. Not just the usual suspects, like Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Brian Steelier, and Sanjay Gupta, but new imports, like former Fox News journalist Chris Wallace.

And one more fresh face it hopes to see on the platform — yours.

Screenshot of CNN Plus on an iPad.

Interview Club is a section of CNN+ that allows subscribers to ask questions, and the on-camera talent to give answers. Digital Trends got a brief demo of CNN+ and Interview Club ahead of the launch. CNN+ itself is exactly what you’d expect — video from one of the premier news sources the U.S. has to offer. The mix of live and linear news is long overdue, and the roster of new shows should be compelling. We’ve yet to actually see any of them, though — and not all of the new fare will be available immediately at launch. So we’ll have to withhold judement on that front.

Interview Club, on the other hand, probably is the more intriguing ingredient. It’s one part Reddit AMA, another part Instagram Stories questions, albeit in a longer, more structured format. It’ll initially work via a web browser or in the mobile app.

“Interview Club fundamentally transforms what it means to become part of the story,” Courtney Coupe, senior vice president of content strategy and operations for CNN+, said in a February press release announcing the initial content slate. “It’s such a unique value proposition within the platform, because it gives our audience the opportunity to directly influence the conversation in real time. This kind of access to newsmakers is unprecedented, and weaving this crucial element of interactivity into the core of CNN+ sets it profoundly apart from anything else that exists in the streaming marketplace.”

That’s almost certainly a little bit of overselling. But Interview Club definitely is the sort of thing that keeps CNN+ from just being a news-centric streaming service.

Series of screenshots of CNN Plus on an iPhone.
CNN+ / Digital Trends

It’s also the sort of thing you worry could go completely off the rails, given that we’re talking news shows and viewer interaction. But one thing CNN+ is not looking to have is a sort of Facebook-style Wild West. There will be several layers of guardrails in place.

First is that to ask a question of a host, you’ll have to be a subscriber to the $6-a-month (or $60-a-year) streaming service, which will live within the existing CNN apps across the various platforms, much like how ESPN+ is a part of the ESPN apps. You don’t pay? You don’t get to play. Second is that questions will be moderated. You’re not guaranteed an answer, and paying the $6 (or $3, if you take advantage of the 50% off deal in the first month) shouldn’t serve as a troll tax, allowing anyone to ask anything in bad faith. If it’s a nonsense question, theoretically it will be squelched.

It’s also worth noting that Interview Club also says that your question actually could be edited a tad before it’s presented, and that’s noted when you submit your question. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Your question could be refined or tightened or simply made better. On the other hand, editing leads to unwanted changes sometimes.

But the folks at CNN+ seem to be prepared for the eventual hiccups that come with submitted content. In our short conversation, which really fell more on the demonstration and technical side of things, they stressed the initial human moderation, and the need to walk before you run. The team moderating the questions is a full-time team internal to CNN+.

What remains to be seen is just how engaging Interview Club — or the CNN+ shows that bookend it — will be. It’s hard enough to get anyone to sit down for an hour and watch anything anymore. Getting them to engage outside of that time likely is even more difficult, though you have to imagine news junkies to be more inclined to weigh in.

Available in all the usual places at launch

CNN+ will be available on the usual app stores on launch day. Specifically, that means the Apple App Store, Google Play for Android devices, and on Amazon Fire TV. Smartphones and tablets are supported, as are Apple TV and, presumably, Android-based TV platforms like Android TV and Google TV.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer CNN+ to customers on each of these platforms on launch day,” Andrew Morse, CNN EVP, Chief Digital Officer and Head of CNN+, said in a press release. “Getting this product into the hands of our customers is an important milestone for CNN, and our partners will be critical to the future success of this product.”

One obvious omission from that list, however, is Roku — the biggest streaming platform in the United States.

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