CNN NewFront Teases Casey Neistat Project, Touts Great Big Story Growth

Courtesy of Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Turner

The event, which featured several Turner brands including Bleacher Report, concluded with a conversation between CNN president Jeff Zucker and YouTuber Casey Neistat.

CNN is getting a little closer to launching its new digital venture with YouTube star Casey Neistat. 

Jeff Zucker, the cable news network's president, announced at the company's second annual NewFront event Thursday that the project will debut this summer. In a short interview with Zucker, Neistat then revealed that the project, which will have a presence on Facebook and YouTube, will be focused more on news than initially planned, though he reminded the audience that he is not a trained journalist. "This is the most exciting thing I've done in my entire life," added Neistat. 

When Neistat spoke with THR in March about his decision to sell his app, Beme, to CNN for around $25 million, he spoke about wanting to penetrate "the thick, strong, solid-steel bullshit shield that this generation cautiously holds up." He also teased that the company wouldn't just create videos but also tech products that help distribute news in new ways.  

Andrew Morse, general manager of CNN Digital, told The Hollywood Reporter after the NewFront presentation that the project will be especially focused on topics that will resonate with the YouTube generation. "We're living in fascinating times," he explained. "This generation is dealing with things that other generations have never had to struggle with. It's not like we're going to plant flags and say, 'we'll follow this issue' but we're starting to think about the themes that are relevant to the audience we're trying to reach."

The opportunity for CNN to create a new brand with Neistat is to forge a new relationship with young audiences who might not be watching cable news. It's especially important in an age when many consumers are questioning whether to trust the traditional media. "The connection that Casey's subscribers have with him, that's their trust," Chris Berend, senior vp digital video for CNN, later noted to THR. "As we grow it's also our job to make sure that we're telling the truth. It's implicit. We do the truth for a living. It's a different definition of what trust is. The people we're trying to connect with through this new company just want us to be real. That's different than what someone expects from a New York Times or CNN." 

The NewFront — this year a combination of Turner brands including Bleacher Report, CNN Digital and Great Big Story — was designed as an experiential event, a set-up that backfired slightly when attendees in the cavernous Skylight Clarkson wouldn't quiet down for the prepared remarks. 

During his time on stage, Zucker touted the growth of CNN Digital, noting that it is the No. 1 digital news brand. He also revealed that Great Big Story, the video-focused brand that CNN launched in 2015, has see 300 percent growth year-over-year. 

"We're in a very different place than we were last year," said Berend, explaining that the brand has reached early benchmarks faster than planned. That growth can come with its own problems, he said, noting "we still need to build awareness."

That's one reason behind a GBS partnership with Apple News to release a new video experience, which went live Thursday. "We need to help other people understand that this is not just a social video company, we're a global media brand," added Berend. GBS is establishing a bureau in London and and launching a Spanish-language vertical, Great Big Cuentos, for Hispanic audiences.

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