CNN launches many stories each day, but one of them has come to an end.
The AT&T-owned news operation is shuttering Great Big Story, a streaming-video hub that launched in 2015 to some attention, and was billed as a way for CNN to reach a younger generation increasingly turning to short-form video delivered via broadband and mobile to get its news and information. For some, Great Big Story represented a way to compete with upstarts like Vice or Buzzfeed – digital boostrappers who were making inroads in the mainstream news cycle with stories and videos that appealed to millennial consumers.
“Challenging times call for difficult decisions, and it is with a heavy heart that we are announcing today that we will be closing the doors of Great Big Story,” the unit said in a statement Wednesday. The decision was driven in large part by economic conditions spurred by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a person familiar with the matter. As executives considered the future of the business, they felt they had to give more priority to other parts of CNN, this person said. As many as 30 positions could be affected.
Great Big Story was considered a start-up business, not part of the main CNN newsgathering apparatus. At times, some of its work appeared on HLN and CNN, but it operated as a separate business. Anchors like Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer did not contribute projects. Instead, Great Big Story focused on its own work: creating three to five news vignettes each day that examined topics ranging from a look at the Saturday-morning TV staple “Schoolhouse Rock,” to a deep dive on Humboldt penguins and a feature on the guy who created the animated bee that became an integral part of advertising around Cheerios.
CNN hoped to generate revenue from advertisers, who would create unique sponsorships of Great Big Story and also distribute branded content on the site. Executives told media buyers that the site aimed to reach urban dwellers between 25 and 35. Some critics, however, believe CNN would have done better to develop an internal unit focused on short-form video content rather that launching a separate entity.
Public momentum around Great Big Story has quieted down in recent months. Chris Berend, a co-founder of the site and the former supervisor of CNN’s digital-video efforts, left the company in May of 2019 to join NBC News to head that unit’s digital efforts.
But the buzz around some of the upstarts with which Great Big Story was to compete has dissipated as well. Buzzfeed, Vox, Vice, Refinery29 and others have endured some layoffs, consolidation and other hallmarks of a cooling market in recent years. Walt Disney, for example, has written down a significant portion of its investment in Vice Media. Vox Media merged with New York Media in 2019.
This isn’t the first time CNN has made a big bet on digital that didn’t blossom as executives had hoped. In 2018, CNN parted ways with YouTube influencer Casey Neistat after it had purchased his social-media venture, Beme after the company tried to launch a digital-news operation that would use it as a base to reach younger viewers.