How CNN Lost $300 MILLION With This ROOKIE Mistake (Don’t Make It Yourself)

Abhi Chand
March 30, 2023

Did you know that CNN lost $300M in 24 days?

Here’s what happened.

On March 29, 2022, CNN launched their streaming platform called CNN+.

And by April 21, 2022 — just 24 days later — they had to shut down the entire project and call it a $300M dollar loss.

They recruited top tier talent from across the country. People uprooted their lives and moved across the country to work for CNN+.

AND all their shows were huge successes when they ran them by their focus groups.

Everyone said they loved it and “of course, I would watch it!”

BUT… that’s NOT what happened.

What do you think went wrong?

(Comment below, I’d be curious to hear your guess.)

The mistake CNN made is actually a basic business, rookie mistake.

One that entrepreneurs make all too often.

That mistake, essentially, is some form of this:

Not Understanding What Your Customer Wants

Last week in my post about How to Build Reputation, I told you that I would tell how to identify your customers’ biggest, most burning problem that they are willing to pay to have solved for them.

And I also told you that identifying this — aka knowing your customers — is an art form in and of itself.

AND I told you that Shane calls this The Market Awareness skill.

But here’s the thing…

I want you to expand your mind beyond problems and think of it in terms of “knowing your audience” vs. just “knowing their problem”.

Because if you know your audience, you can make endless amounts of content talking about the things that matter to them.

You can have endless conversations with them about their worldview, what they value, and what they want out of life.

And all of this builds trust in your audience because they see you as someone who understands them

…and we all know trust is one of the most important factors for someone to buy from you repeatedly.

You may hard sell and close someone once.

But if they have a bad experience, they’re never buying from you again.


One of my dearest friends Liz once told me:

“Abhi, you attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Trust is like honey.

The bees want to come back to you over and over again.

Hard selling is like vinegar.

Nobody likes vinegar.

Not even bees.

Anyways, getting back to the point: We want to know our audience.

And we want to know their biggest problem.

So that we can solve it and (hopefully) make a ton of money in the process of doing so.

Let me ask you this:

What did CNN do wrong?

I just want to know if you’ve already thought of the answer or not.

Here’s what CNN did wrong that cost them $300 MILLION DOLLARS

CNN Didn’t Understand Their Audience

Here’s what that means:

There are 2 levels of customer behaviour:

  1. What people say, and
  2. What people do

Would you agree with that?

Seems pretty fair, right?

BUT… there is a secret third category of human behaviour.

This secret third category is where master marketers operate.

Master marketers, high level business owners, super successful people…

…they all (consciously or unconsciously) understand this secret third category.

That category is:

3. What people Mean.

Does it make sense?

Let me explain it to you with the CNN example.

Btw, once you get this, you are never going to make this mistake again. And, consequently, you shouldn't lose $300M for your company 🙂

Look at the graphic below.

The 3 Categories of Human Behaviour.

What people said is: “I love your content and, of course, I will sign up for CNN+”

What people did was: they didn’t sign up for CNN+

What people meant was: I enjoyed this content FOR FREE!

It’s that third part that cost CNN $300M.

The way to understand what people mean is to develop an intuition about what you hear people say and what you watch them do

…then you make your best guess about what you think they mean through these actions.

This third part is where the “risk” of entrepreneurship lies.

Because the truth is, we are never guaranteed success (or anything, for that matter).

So how do we prevent ourselves from making this mistake?

How do we understand what people mean?
And what they want?

And how do we understand their biggest problems?

So we can provide a solution, and get paid well in return.

There are 3 ways of doing this.

(I’m sure there are more, but these are the 3 that I know.)

1. Impact Testing

This is NOT my own technique but boy is it ultra effective to identify what people resonate with the most.

I learned this from Jess & Erin from MintCRO

I HIGHLY recommend getting their $37 course for how to do impact testing via FB ads.

They explain everything clearly and do an excellent job.

Basically, the gist of it is that you run message tests as FB ads to see which ones catch the most attention.

The ones that get the most attention are the ones that resonate with your audience the most.

From there, you make an educated guess on what you think your audience’s biggest problem is.

For context on how powerful this method really can be:

Here’s how we built the
QuitByHealing brand on TikTok

I ran 30-35 messages to an audience of 20-35 year old men.

The categories of my messages were:

  1. Self Worth
  2. Addiction
  3. Aimlessness
  4. And Porn

Can you guess which messages resonated with this age group the most?

We were surprised as well.

It was Porn.

Here are the results from my testing:

Results from my Message Testing.

5/6 Porn-related messages were catching attention like wildfire.

There is another lesson here for anyone who’s paying attention.

We do no consciously choose what catches our attention. We come to the realization that our attention has been hooked by something.

Our job as marketers is to figure out what that “something” is.

And doing so involves tons and tons of effort, scientific precision, and a gut-level intuition.

That’s why business and marketing are so much fun and so highly rewarded.

There is no “process” that produces the results you want.

Because if there was, it would no longer be a valuable skill.

It is, in one way of looking at it, like alchemy.

You are creating gold from the raw materials that are available to you.

This can be an article and topic of discussion for hours in itself.

But what I want to show you is the result of my message testing and what Shane did with this information.

Oh and btw, this testing cost us like $80-$100 in total…

…and here are the results:

Shane built an audience on TikTok for his QuitByHealing brand of 162.7K followers in less than 3 months.

One Hundred and Sixty Two THOUSAND!… (point seven)

And it cost us about $100 to figure out what message “resonates” with our audience.

The next step is to monetize this audience.

At the time of writing this article, we are in the process of doing so and haven’t released the product yet…

…but, I will let you know how that goes as well.

The 2nd and 3rd Way to
Identify What Your Customer Wants

The 2nd way of identifying what your customer wants allowed me to do my first ever product launch in 2021 and make $10K in one go.

Maybe that’s not a spectacular number to you...

...but for my first run, I thought it was pretty decent.

And the 3rd way of identifying what your customer wants allowed me to make $100K for a former client in 3 months…

…and $20K from an "old stale list" a few months ago.

Both of these are extremely powerful strategies.

And both of them deserve the time and attention to be explained.

So you can properly leverage them, put them to good use, and make a solid chunk of change yourself.

BUT… in order to do it right, I will share these 2 strategies with you next week — in my next article.

So make sure you’re receiving my emails and do whatever you need to do to mark them as important, etc.

For now, I would urge you to internalize the lessons I shared with you here today.

Especially the $300M mistake that CNN made.

A meta-lesson here is that nobody has this figured out, not even billion dollar companies.

So if you don’t have it figured out either, it’s not the end of the world.

Focus on doing your best instead of doing it right.

That’s all I have for you today.

Let me know what you thought of this in the comments below.

Always love hearing what you think.



PS. Can you answer this for me: what is the biggest thing you struggle with?

It’s literally 2 questions and will take you 10 seconds.

Oh, and I will show you why it matters in my next week’s article.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

Abhi Chand

About the author

Abhi is super passionate about business and marketing. He loves hitting the gym and working out while also being a bit of a nerd. But the best thing he likes to do is help people win big!

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  • says:

    Hi Abhi,
    The mistake CNN made is, as you say, a rookie mistake, an obvious mistake, so obvious that we don’t think it’s possible to fall for it. So why do they, and we, still fall for it? Wishful thinking. We want a specific result, so we get really good at convincing ourselves that the obvious mistake isn’t there. We listen to the statements supporting what we want. We don’t try to look closer at the statements to see if there might be something there that we don’t want to hear. Normal human behaviour. We all do it, every day. That’s usually ok. It makes life a bit more positive. We just need to be aware of those times when it’s not so.

    • Yeah, what you are describing is Confirmation Bias. When we really want something, we tend to ignore that conflicting information. In the case of CNN, instead of steamrolling ahead with a $300M project, they could’ve tested it on a smaller scale first to see who (if anyone) is buying their service or not.

      Also, one thing that all these media companies got wrong about streaming was creating their own streaming service. They primarily looked for their own benefit vs. trying to understand why Netflix succeeded.

      Netflix (imo) succeeded because you could watch all the movies you want in one place, any time.

      Media companies took that to mean “oh look! we can create a streaming service and people will pay us for only OUR content.”

      Big mistake.

      Nobody wants to buy 10 streaming services just to watch shows / movies. They have created the ideal environment for pirating content all over again.

      Even this is an example of confirmation bias. They saw the conclusion they wanted to see vs. asking questions like “what could we be wrong about?”, “what benefit do people get from this?”, etc.

  • Karen McCamy says:

    Hi Abhi,

    Welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere! Hope you had a great trip! <3

    Fascinating case study about CNN! What is stunning is the total lack of awareness about their customers! :-O (eye roll)

    I’ve followed Shane for so long, I saw him do this and write about it when advising us… He emphasized “customer development” which for him meant getting on calls with people to ask questions and really get to know what they wanted and needed… and then creating an initial product (or <>, then create it if there is sufficient interest) and *observe their behavior* instead of pulling a CNN faux pas and making assumptions about their behavior!

    To be realistic, we might rail at this “egregious” mistake by CNN, but I think it only emphasizes how we can blind ourselves through ignorance or overconfidence (or arrogance 🙄). What I mean is that we are so convinced our idea (product or service) is *the perfect solution*, we fail to actually test the assumption about behavior…

    KUDOS & Congrats on your launch! That’s very impressive! 😀

    As usual, looking forward to your next installment!

    <3 Karen

    • Thank you Karen!

      You are absolutely right about this. It is essentially a case of Confirmation Bias. Wanting to be right so desperately that we ignore conflicting information.

      Everyone makes this mistake, nobody is immune to it.

      My point wasn’t to say “look how stupid CNN is” but to point out that these things happen at ALL levels. And we don’t need to make monumental mistakes to learn from them.

      You are absolutely right about customer development. There is an element of using doubt to your advantage with theses things. Being too eager and pulling the trigger too soon is never a great idea.

      Thank you for your comment once again! 🙂

      • Karen McCamy says:

        As always, I’m happy to weigh in! 😉

        And I agree that the real lesson here is that if huge entities like CNN don’t recognize “confirmation bias” it’s easy to see how easy it is for the “rest of us” to get tripped up by it!

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