CNN is a disruptor. Yes, you read that right.
It's been quite awhile, but dig back in the history annals and you'll see that CNN was the original media disruptor when Ted Turner came up with the concept for around-the-clock cable news. Great Big Story, a new initiative developed by the best digital minds at CNN, is an opportunity to capture that spirit again and to really be on the frontline of something new.
"We have the benefits of having one of the world's strongest news brands," says Andrew Morse, Great Big Story's co-founder and General Manager of CNN Digital Worldwide. "You can go anywhere in the world and you have those three red and white letters. But you can't sit on your laurels, especially at a time when the entire news industry is being disrupted."
The impressive thing about Great Big Story, which is focused on shareable stories and integrated advertising, is that it has a really clear sense of purpose. It's quite possibly the first network built with today's emerging mobile and social platforms in mind. If you're going to launch a new network in 2016, you're not going to launch as a cable television network, as most of us can predict the ultimate trajectory of that industry.
Morse and his team have set out purposely to launch a network that would live in social feeds and the mobile feeds. Hence Great Big Story's advertising tagline, "Feed your Feed." At the same time, they know what they're not trying to be.Morse recognizes that "there's actually a huge opportunity where there's a big segment of the Millennial population that isn't satisfied with what they're getting from Vice and Buzzfeed--and also isn't satisfied necessarily with what they're getting they're getting from CNN or from traditional media sources."
Indeed, when looking over the content of Great Big Story, it's clear that it is its own thing. It is told in a distinct voice and style that isn't reminiscent of CNN. At the same time, it's a very different product from Vice or Buzzfeed. "We're not going to try to out-Vice Vice. We're not going to try to out-Buzzfeed Buzzfeed. People compare us because we're new and people compare us because we're edgy," says Morse."I think people compare us because it's probably different from those things they're used to seeing."
The question remains: how can a media company as monolithic as Turner launch an entrepreneurial initiative like Great Big Story? In order to accomplish the impossible, Great Big Story had to be independent. In fact, it was launched as an independent company. GBS is an independent LLC, not affiliated with CNN other than the fact that the GBS team likes to refer to CNN as its older sibling. "We established it as a different company," Morse explains, "so that it would have a different tone to its style editorially and push different boundaries commercially."
In order to stay true to what we believed we had to do, GBS' founders needed to make sure that the new organization had the right sensibility, the right staff, and right approach. "As innovative as CNN is, as creative as CNN is, we're a big company and sometimes it takes us a long time to get things done," admits Morse.
The Great Big Story team has established its own culture, internal workflow, and internal rhythms. If Morse and his team play their cards right, they get the best of both worlds: theresources ofa large company and the nimbleness of a young, hungry startup. "Being able to use the marketing might of Turner and CNN; being able to use some of the expertise; being able to use some of the in-house resources has made a huge difference," says Morse. "I think that helps - the start-up with a head start is what we're really looking forward to."
The marketing is off to a strong start, with nearly one million Facebook just two months after launch. Part of that initial traction is the brand's proper positioning. It makes sense that CNN isn't trying to brand Great Big Story as "CNN for Millennials." In some ways, it's reminiscent of Facebook's decision not to rebrand Instagram as "Mobile Facebook for Images" after its $1B acquisition. Had Facebook done that, Instagram would lose its authenticity. The same could have happened to Great Big Story; and all of a sudden the user base would discuss it as a CNN app as opposed to something more.
Morse believes that news outlets can effectively integrate brands who understand native advertising in smart, clever, and creative ways, and Great Big Story is trying to proactively to work with brands more than ever before. Morse and his team will get an idea in their heads perfect for a specific brand to integrate into. If done right, the execution becomes organic, and also it serves the audiences' purpose. Great Big Story can still label it as native, branded content--because it is.
"You can't try to pull the wool over the audience's eyes because they will be relentless and unforgiving. We'll never do that," says Morse. "We launched GBS in part to be able to push the boundaries...to be able to try new things."
From the audiences' perspective a well-executed, smart, properly delineated native adis less disruptive than many kinds of traditional advertising that consumers have learnt to live with.
As for the unexpected benefits of an initiative like Great Big Story, Morse believes that his team will learn things that will benefit its big sister CNN. "As much as we're not attached in a lot of ways, whether it's editorial voice, whether it's production style or whether it's advertising, there is still a lot of learning."