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When CNN announced in December that it was paying about $25 million for Beme, a social video app developed by YouTube star and filmmaker Casey Neistat, the media industry collectively raised an eyebrow. What was this legacy news brand going to do with a guy known for his daily video blogs? After years of bumping around the media business — Neistat and his brother previously co-created The Neistat Brothers, which aired for one season on HBO in 2010 — Neistat, 35, reveals he’s planning a new (still unnamed) YouTube channel, set to launch in March, where he will host a daily show. And the team behind Beme, co-founded with Matt Hackett, is hard at work developing new apps that experiment with how to distribute the news. “It speaks to CNN’s fearlessness that they’re willing to get behind radical experimentation in the media space,” says Neistat, who spoke with THR about how technology can change the news and why this venture won’t have a splashy launch.
Why align with “old” media when you can reach an audience on your own?
What I really saw in the CNN partnership was an opportunity to take this thing that I do and to scale, to make it — for the first time in my career — much, much bigger than just me.
When you did this deal, there were a lot of unknowns. Is that still the case?
When I was saying in my YouTube videos that I had no idea what we were doing, I wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. We really didn’t know what we were doing. It’s really starting to take shape, but there is not going to be any sort of big event or press release saying, “Here we are, and here’s what we’re doing.”
Explain specifically what you’re doing with CNN.
I want to build a news company. It’s going to be video exclusive. It’s going to be done in a way that penetrates the thick, strong, solid-steel bullshit shield that this generation cautiously holds up in between them and everything being thrown at them. We want to push that aside by speaking to them frankly and by having it be something that’s extraordinarily transparent.
How do you address the distrust of the media that exists today?
It’s all about who is delivering the content. If there’s one person you trust and relate to, then you will follow that person no matter what he or she is sharing. We want to make sure that the people we have delivering the content are people that our audience look to with trust. If we can accomplish that and we can deliver information in a square way, I think we will go a very long way in building a fantastic amount of trust.
What tech projects are you working on?
We’re building a product right now that’s particularly exciting. It’s about delivering live newsfeeds from around the world. It’s curated by journalists. There’s 12 different newsfeeds that are live at that very moment. These are raw, unfiltered, unedited newsfeeds. Delivering that without context strips away the noise. It leaves you with exactly what’s taking place.
How can technology improve the news business?
The magic of technology is how quickly you can innovate with it. Traditionally, media, whether that’s print or broadcast media, has had a slow process of iteration. Look at what Twitter can do in eight years, especially in the shadow of how our current president leverages it. Look at what Facebook can do when you consider how it can contribute to a presidential election. That’s a really vivid illustration of just how popular these new technologies are when it comes to the dissemination of information.
What do you hope to accomplish with this new venture?
There’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of confusion about what should be paid attention to. A very simple goal is to present something that cuts through that in a digestible way. If you consume one thing today, you feel like you’ve got a grip on what took place in the world.
How do you get the news?
I watch television, although not that much. I have my favorite news outlets, but what I try to do in consuming online is to find the same story in two different places. I’ve been trying to find a biased perspective on either side. It’s the same with podcasts. I’m a huge fan of political podcasts, but I listen to as many conservative commentators as I do liberal ones. When I consume media, I want to know what’s going on but I also really want to understand how and why it’s being shared the way it is, especially in the shadow of what we’re trying to build.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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