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TODD SMITH — CNN launches Great Big Story – answer to Vice And Buzzfeed



Just south of CNN’s Manhattan headquarters, in an office marked not with the broadcast company’s iconic logo, but a red rocket ship, nearly 30 new employees have spent time stealthily preparing to launch the broadcast network’s answer to publications like Vice and Buzzfeed: Great Big Story.

GBS is an independent company fully funded by CNN, and it aims to create video that is appealing to millennials (more specifically, “urban-located, globally curious 25- to 35-year-olds”), shareable on social networks, and appropriate for native advertising – all objectives that CNN, with its strict focus on news, is somewhat awkwardly suited to pursue.

CNN relies on cable subscriber fees for the bulk of its revenue, but as online viewing options put pressure on the cable bundle and global digital ad revenues look poised to surpass U.S. television advertising by 2017, those fees are at risk of shrinking. Meanwhile, a news story that goes live at 8 a.m. might be stale by 11 a.m., leaving only a narrow opportunity to package and monetize it online and across social networks.

CNN Digital Studios

In April 2014, CNN launched its digital studios, which produces bite-sized shows designed for social media and evergreen content that could be repackaged and reused. Over the next year, CNN’s video views jumped 48 percent, but the type of story that CNN’s audience is accustomed to, however, isn’t necessarily the type of story that does well in in the social sphere.

After Narendra Modi was appointed as India’s prime minister, for instance, CNN’s digital team made a video that swayed from CNN’s usual straightforward voice. Titled, “Is THIS the most interesting man in the world?” it pointed to Modi’s poetry collections, three-hour-a-night sleep habits, and large number of female fans in India.

And while Buzzfeed and Vice have both built large businesses on helping brands integrate their messages into videos, CNN’s focus on news also limits its ability to maximize this kind of advertising. After CNN launched a branded content studio called Courageous in June, native advertising the studio produced for CNN was always marked as sponsored content and often lived in a separate “branded zone” on the website. On Great Big Story, native advertising won’t be labeled any differently from strictly editorial content (Update: To clarify, though branded content will be positioned the same as editorial content, each individual video will be labeled as sponsored, sometimes “creatively”).

Executives decided they could compete more effectively for millennial-focused advertising dollars if their content wasn’t tied to the CNN brand.

The service launched on Oct. 20, and GBS will soon release Android and iOS apps, and content in Facebook’s “suggested videos” feature. In November, it will launch on YouTube, and at the beginning of 2016, it will be available on Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and Kindle Fire.

Courtney Coupe, who most recently headed up digital video development and production at Bloomberg, is GBS’s executive producer. Matthew Drake (TIME, NowThis) is in charge of audience and content development, and David Spiegel (Buzzfeed) heads up sales.

GBS is positioning itself not only as different from CNN, but also in opposition to other popular web video studios. It plans to launch an advertising campaign with the tagline, “Feed your feed.” One sales video positions the content like this: “What if there were more to your social feed than empty clickbait and cat videos? What if there were real stories, great big ones? About new frontiers, the human condition, and our planet and its tastes and flavors? Stories so curious and compelling, so jaw-droppingly awesome, that at the end of the day you feel completely full?”

Among GBS’s first feature videos are a history of Chef Boyardee, told in a “Wes Anderson-inspired” style; an interview with the man who originally voiced the Kool-Aid guy; and a feature about how the shape of pupils is different in predators than in prey.

That smart space is arguably not totally empty. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both do high-end, journalistic feature web video and have branded content studios. So do Hearst and Conde Nast (the latter even has editors work directly with brands on content). A more significant space that GBS has the potential to fill is in CNN’s advertising offerings. Courageous, the company’s branded content studio, now lives inside of GBS. Rather than using preroll or banner ads, GBS advertising will be entirely integrated into its content – and the line between editorial and advertorial video will become more blurred than ever.

YouTube takes on Netflix with ad-free subscription service

YouTube is taking on Netflix with a new subscription channel stocked with original programming.

YouTube Red will feature original shows from YouTube performers like PewDiePie, Lilly Singh and the Fine Brothers that will be seen first to folks who pay $9.99 for their monthly, ad-free, subscription. The service launched Wednesday, October 28, but the new originals won’t launch until early 2016.

The service will also offer access to a new YouTube music app, YouTube Music, which replaces YouTube Music Key, the previous name, and YouTube’s gaming app. The music app launches later this year.Subscription offers access to YouTube, ad-free, on all platforms: computer, mobile and TV.

“This is a major evolution for our platform,” said Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer at a splashy news event at YouTube’s L.A. production space. “We’re giving fans a new way to enjoy YouTube.”

Earlier this year, a new video subscription service, Vessel, launched, offering YouTube performers a place to debut their new stuff, in exchange for a bigger cut of ad revenues.

Homegrown performers on YouTube have emerged as a major force in entertainment, attracting millions of young viewers, and branching out to movies, TV shows and books. At the same time, entertainment services like Netflix and Hulu have proven the popularity of subscriptions for original programming, with shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Silenced Mic | VP Biden Out As Presidential Contender

Vice President Joe Biden has announced he will forgo a run for the White House, bringing clarity to the shape of the Democratic primary race and giving front-runner Hillary Clinton a substantial boost.

The vice president’s announcement came after months of assessing the political landscape and consulting with family, and it eliminated the possibility of a three-way scrum for Democratic primary votes. The decision leaves Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running in the Democratic primary, as Clinton’s chief rival.

“Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination,” Biden said from the White House Rose Garden while flanked by his wife, Jill Biden, and President Barack Obama.

Biden would have competed directly with Clinton for support, and his decision removes a threat of Democratic fundraisers and voters defecting to a popular vice president or, at the very least, splitting their allegiance between the party stalwarts.

Biden would have taken more votes from Clinton than Sanders, Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling shows. Most of the 15 percent of likely Democratic primary voters who would have backed Biden said Clinton was their second choice, by a margin of about 2-to-1. But all for naught! Biden will sit on the presidential sidelines – and get’s a Silenced Mic!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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