A CNN skunkworks project is gearing up to launch another answer to BuzzFeed News, Vice News and other millennial-focused news brands in a matter of weeks.
So says Casey Neistat, the popular YouTube creator whose video-sharing app startup Beme was acquired by CNN last fall. On Monday at the Cannes Lions advertising and media festival, Neistat disclosed new details of what he’s been working on for the last six months.
Beme is gearing up to launch an app centered around a daily news show, initially to run four days a week before expanding to seven days per week, which will be about 10 minutes long. It won’t cover breaking news per se; instead, “we want to dive into culture, we want to dive into societal issues,” said Neistat, 36, who toted a skateboard onto the stage at the Palais des Festivals. “News means different things to a lot of people.”
Why is Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, working with a guy who once was famous for snowboarding while being towed by a Jeep through New York City? Simply put, the traditional CNN brand has a very hard time reaching younger viewers, he said.
The average age of CNN’s audience is 59 years old. “It’s hard to get away from that,” Zucker said. “We’re not going to get away from that by just putting CNN on different platforms.”
Hence CNN’s need for new brands. Its first entry into the millennial-news segment was Great Big Story, launched in the fall of 2015, focused on “overlooked” and “amazing” stories with human-interest angles distributed via social platforms. The average age of Great Big Story’s audience is 27 years old — and Zucker thinks Beme and Neistat can reach an even younger demo.
“Casey is somebody I knew [about] from my children,” Zucker said. “He does great work, he has a big following, and he’s able to reach an audience CNN never could.”
Zucker elaborated: “We have hundreds and hundreds of reporters and people who can tell video stories, and can stand up there with a mic and trench coat. We don’t need more of those.” Neistat has a “confidence that allows [him] to just go for it and not care what I think or anyone else things – just to tell the story.”
In the context of Beme’s daily show, Neistat defined “news” as being content that’s primarily informative but also entertaining. “If you want the news, he’s really good at that,” Neistat said, gesturing to Zucker. “We have written in our newsroom, ‘Tell me something I don’t know.'”
Neistat said he took the chance to team up with CNN because “the one thing I’ve always struggled to do is scale. My YouTube show peaked at 5 million views per day.” Working with CNN, he said, “was the opportunity to work on something bigger than me.”
The new Beme app will include an interactive feature called Panels. The concept is to deliver multiple perspectives on a topic, akin to CNN’s panel discussion segments. But Beme will be different because its talking heads will consist of viewers sharing their thoughts in 15-second video clips. “Our Panels look just like CNN panels, except we show the individual and where they are and their age,” Neistat said. “They’re people I can relate to.”
Zucker, asked what the future holds for Beme, answered that he had no idea.
“If in two years it looks like it does today, we’ve failed,” he said. “Who knows where it’s going? That’s the risk that makes it so potentially rewarding.”
New York-based Beme had raised $2 million from investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners and Vayner/RSE, a partnership of Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia and RSE Ventures.