Photo Credit: flickr
On the surface, of course, the idea from CNN was brilliant: bring in a top YouTube video creator to the aging news network, let him and his team work their magic with the young millennial generation, and presto! You’d grow your TV audience and expand your reach with the all-important 18-to-34 demographic. Unfortunately, CNN’s expensive $25 million purchase of Casey Neistat’s Beme didn’t quite turn out the way it expected. The experiment didn’t work, and now CNN is winding down the whole operation.
So what went wrong?
The easiest explanation, of course, is that CNN simply dropped the ball. After all, CNN’s Snapchat news show experiment also turned out to be a bust, and if you watch the TV ads appearing on CNN for any amount of time, it’s clear that the target audience for the news network is still the over-65 crowd who can’t quite figure out how to get rid of their cable subscription. So, you could plausibly argue that CNN is not exactly a hotbed of innovation.
However, as Casey Neistat explains in a video after CNN announced it was winding down the Beme project, the problem wasn’t CNN. As Casey says, the network actually gave him and his team a “long leash” and didn’t interfere with his artistic vision. He takes full responsibility for the setback, saying that he just couldn’t find a workable business model.
The deeper problem, it appears, is that it’s not so simple to export a YouTube star to the world of traditional, mainstream media. There have been several other experiments along the same lines as CNN’s Beme experiment (including efforts by Bloomberg to launch a Twitter video news network), but none of them have really picked up any kind of traction. The Beme News video channel, for example, still only has 270,000 YouTube subscribers and has only produced a few dozen videos (including a few recent videos about Tesla and electric vehicles).
What’s next for CNN?
As it stands now, it looks like CNN will be left with three assets after Casey and his team officially depart. One will be a live news app still in development called Wire, one will be the Beme Panels app, and the final one will be the Beme News YouTube channel. It sounds like all of these assets will be folded into existing CNN news operations, and the company will basically wash its hands of this $25 million experiment. That figure might sound like a fortune, but for a major media conglomerate like Time Warner (which owns CNN), it’s a rounding error.
There is one interesting tidbit, though, in the various media reports that have trickled out about Beme: it sound like the live news app Wire will be powered by a machine learning platform. That’s interesting, right? It means that maybe the business of news is so broken these days that, in order to make any money off it, you need to turn to machines and not people. Why pay a YouTube creator millions of dollars, when you can have a machine splice together a few video clips, add in some captions, and send those videos off to young millennials everywhere on their digital devices.
From the perspective of media conglomerates, maybe the idea of “social media” is no longer sexy. What’s sexy now is machine learning and artificial intelligence. So keep your eyes out for CNN’s next big acquisition. Here’s one guess: it will be based around machine learning and AI, not YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat.