CNN Shuts Down Its 5-Year-Old Digital Video Startup Great Big Story

By A.J. Katz Comment

CNN has shut down its award-winning video-first media company, Great Big Story.

The staff has been notified.

Here’s the official announcement from its PR team:

In October 2015, CNN digital executives Andrew Morse and Chris Berend co-founded Great Big Story, the CNN-backed (but independently operated) digital video brand that produced original micro documentaries and short films with a cinematic quality that was rarely found on digital.

In a release on the launch, the network described CNN as “a sugar daddy we see on the weekends.”

The brand endeavored to compete with millennial media brands like BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox—an audience interested in news but not TV news.

The majority of GBS videos were fewer than 3 minutes long, and they reached 30 to 60 million people a week in 2017. On smart TVs, GBS viewers watched, on average, 38 minutes a session. The GBS viewer’s average age was roughly 27—less than half the age of the average CNN TV viewer.

GBS got off to a hot start: Just six months after launch, it was seeing 40 million views per month. On YouTube, the GBS audience collectively had spent more than 345 years watching its videos over those first six months.

The stories that come out of Great Big Story are “fundamentally optimistic, but not naive or sunshine-y,” explained Berend, adding that in a world in which a three-second play counts as a view on Facebook, GBS accepts its role of creating things that “make people stop.”

“We’re an antidote to the news,” Berend told Adweek in January 2017, adding, “There’s a noise and an ADD in news feeds, and we’re the counterprogramming to that. We’re not chasing Facebook views, but we’re chasing engagement.”

Later in 2017, Great Big Story received a big influx of cash from its parent company CNN Worldwide: $40 million over the next two years, to be exact. Part of the injection was meant to transform the social video startup into a 24/7 streaming network.

Adweek honored Morse and Berend in June 2017 as digital innovators, and the duo were included in Adweek’s 2017 Creative 100 issue.

However, despite the early successes, GBS, like many other digital media companies, has had to significantly revamp its initial business strategies in recent years. The startup is now no longer.

Morse is now CNN Worldwide evp and chief digital officer, while Berend left CNN last year to become evp of NBC News Digital. CNN digital executive Courtney Coupe most recently oversaw GBS as vp of digital productions, which includes GBS, CNN Audio and Digital Productions, which is streaming shows like AC Full Circle and Go There on Facebook. Ashley Codianni ran the brand’s day-to-day operations  as vp of brand and digital strategy.

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