Advertisers Start to Sniff Out CNN's
Courtesy Great Big Story

Great Big Story is about to open a new chapter.

The streaming-video hub, CNN’s answer to entities like Vice and NowThis that distribute newsy vignettes across the digisphere, is about to unveil some of the projects that will help keep it turning the page:  advertiser-sponsored content.

General Electric will tap Great Big Story as one of the places it distributes a new set of  three short films, set to appear alongside GBS content Thursday. On February 17, the hub will unveil an eight-part video series that is put together under the sponsorship aegis of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and is called “The Dreamers.” Six of the videos are actual pieces of Great Big Story content, while two others are made on behalf of the he software and technology-services company, which was spun off from the venerable Hewlett Packard last year.

“We are not just trying to shove any old brand into a native ad,” said Chris Berend, co-founder of Great Big Story, in an interview. The site launched in October. “We are very much focused on our audience and delivering storytelling to our audience. We think brands can be a huge part of that.”

Since veteran TV executive Jeff Zucker took over as president of the Time Warner division in early 2013, the cable-news outlet has dabbled more in nonfiction programming, developing and commissioning series and documentaries for primetime. Great Big Story does something similar, except its video reports are available for consumption at any moment a user might like.

Selections available include a look at the Saturday-morning TV staple “Schoolhouse Rock,” a look at Humboldt penguins and a look at the guy who created the Cheerios bee. The videos are typically just minutes in length. Great Big Story produces about three to five new vignettes a day, said Berend.

The Great Big Story pitch, said Berend, is that the site aims to reach urban dwellers between 25 and 35 who are naturally curious and influential when on social media. He estimated GBS videos reach approximately 25 million unique views each week across all of its outlets, which include an app, YouTube and Facebook. The company is about to begin pushing its videos onto so-called over-the-top broadband services. “We signed a handful of pivotal deals that come online in the next month or so,” Berend said.

Many of the nation’s best-known digital outlets make use of “branded videos,” offering to help craft the vignettes so they have the look and feel fo the site they help bolster. Vice has in particular become known for this approach and intends to make a similar offer to marketers who sign up to sponsor Viceland, its new cable network that launches later this month and is co-owned by A+E Networks. The theory is that if the new media outlets get involved with creating their advertising, they can establish a deeper relationship with their sponsors and devise promotions their viewers might be more inclined to examine.

“We are on a branded-content model. We are not in the business of delivering a bunch of pre-roll,” Berend said. Advertisers are “looking for big ideas, or they are looking to solve a particular storytelling challenge, and they are coming to us.”

Users should know about the sponsorships on the site, he said. Some video that is sponsored is labeled as such, while videos that are directly about a sponsor have a different identification attached.

Great Big Story could travel further, the executive suggested, noting that some of its content could eventually make its way to CNN or its sister cable outlet, HLN. Creating some kind of film festival is also an idea under consideration. “We are just getting started,” said Berend.


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