CNN Shuts Down Its BuzzFeed-Esque Great Big Story After 5 Years

Digital video company had targeted millennials who don't watch TV news

Great Big Story had targeted urban millennials who at the time were flocking to the likes of BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice. CNN
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After five years, it’s the end of the line for Great Big Story, CNN’s digital video attempt at wooing the same urban millennials who had once flocked to BuzzFeed, Vox Media and Vice Media. The platform, which was owned by CNN but operated independently, is shutting down.

“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 company said today in a statement.

CNN rolled out the digital video effort in October 2015, targeting digital media companies like BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice who at the time had all become very successful at courting urban millennials—a demographic that was not watching TV news.

“For the last five years, Great Big Story has had a simple mission: to unearth untold stories from around the world. We’ve shined a light on the extraordinary people and places hiding in plain sight,” said the company. It produced “thousands of stories,” told in more than 100 countries.

The stories that came out of Great Big Story were “fundamentally optimistic, but not naive or sunshine-y,” Great Big Story co-founder Chris Berend, who is now evp of digital at NBC News, told Adweek in 2017. “We’re an antidote to the news. … 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.”

The videos were primarily distributed across Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and GBS’ own apps. Three to five new videos were uploaded every day in what the company called an ad block-proof environment. There were no prerolls (other than on YouTube), only brand deals.

Initially, Great Big Story seemed to be catching on. Just six months after launch, the platform was seeing 40 million views per month.

“CNN has been telling stories for more than 35 years,” CNN president Jeff Zucker told advertisers in 2016. “This is as excited as we have been about any business we have launched.”

But the media landscape has evolved rapidly since then, and all of the digital media companies that Great Big Story sought to emulate have had to significantly revamp their own initial business strategies.

“We all have a Great Big Story,” the company said in its statement, “go tell yours.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.