CNN Unveils Millennial-Targeted Video Site Great Big Story

GBS to Produce Branded Content for Advertisers

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In a play for advertisers enamored with the sexiness of a BuzzFeed or Vice, CNN on Tuesday is unveiling a platform called Great Big Story that's intended to deliver young and intellectual consumers.

Great Big Story, or GBS, is a video network whose mission is to produce content that goes deeper than the cat videos and fluffy lists of other millennial-targeted web sites. Despite the backing of CNN and its parent Turner Broadcasting, however, the site is decidedly not a news network.

GBS will release three to five non-fiction videos per day of untold stories about new frontiers, the human condition, planet earth and tastes and flavors.

BuzzFeed veteran David Spiegel, who will lead advertising for GBS, said the platform is designed for the type of person who is constantly searching Google for answers to questions.

"The core proposition is show me something I haven't seen, tell me something I haven't heard," he said. The videos will have a positive and inspirational voice, won't be gritty or salacious, and will target urban, globally curious 25-to-35-year-olds.

While GBS will be anchored by a homepage, its primary means of distribution will be social networks such as Facebook and YouTube, its own app and, early next year, over-the-top streaming platforms like Roku and Apple TV.

But it isn't about waiting for viewers to come find GBS. The company intends to find you, through a combination of organic social media, amplification through CNN and other Turner properties, and targeted advertising. In a sizzle reel introducing GBS it says, "Finding you this fall, everywhere you watch video."

While advertising will not live on the site at launch as GBS focuses on building the brand and attracting an audience, Mr. Spiegel is actively speaking with potential advertisers about the ways brands can be integrated into the content.

There are no immediate plans for display advertising or pre-roll commercials on GBS. All of the initial advertising efforts will be focused on branded content.

Brands will have the opportunity to be integrated through custom video franchises, essentially non-fiction series, Mr. Spiegel said. "We aren't selling canned content or standard media," he said.

One of the first videos that will appear on GBS is the story of the Kool-Aid Man, who was voiced by Frank Simms. In the short video, Mr. Simms talks about how the voice of the Kool-Aid Man came to be.

While Kool-Aid parent Kraft isn't a sponsor of this video, it speaks to the types of branded content opportunities that could be available to advertisers.

Kind Snacks and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have both signed on to sponsor GBS.

GBS is getting offices apart from CNN's.
GBS is getting offices apart from CNN's. Credit: Michael A. Schwarz/Bloomberg

"Great Big Story is attractive to a brand like Kind because the content that is produced has heart and comes from a place of thoughtfulness," Joshua Nafman, senior director-brand and digital marketing, Kind Snacks, said via email. "While many companies are more than happy to produce content for brands masked as ads, pranks and sponsorship, Great Big Story takes great care to try and draw out what means the most to people and the brand."

Since Mr. Spiegel can't deliver any case studies or proof of performance to potential advertisers, GBS is offering marketers an opportunity to help build it from the ground up.

"We view brands as partners, not just as sponsors," said Chris Berend, VP-video development, CNN, who founded GBS along with Andrew Morse, exec VP-editorial at CNN U.S. and general manager, CNN Digital Worldwide.

With GBS, Mr. Berend said they are trying to bring in brands that wouldn't necessarily consider working with CNN.

The branded content will be created by GBS's editorial team, which will devise the franchises, in conjunction with Courageous, CNN's branded content studio.

While GBS may be tapping CNN for its partnerships with advertisers, consumers will see little indication that it is even related to the cable news giant.

"For varying audiences, CNN means a lot of different things, but the one thing across the board that it always stands for is news," Mr. Berend said. And because GBS is not a news platform, Mr. Berend said he doesn't want brand confusion.

Of course, CNN is also rooted in traditional media, something GBS certainly doesn't want to be seen as.

GBS is operating in a separate office from CNN, with its own staff of about 35 employees from places like Vice, Vox, ABC and Amazon.

But this doesn't mean it won't have access to CNN's resources, including Turner Broadcasting's trove of data.

With networks like Adult Swim and CNN, personalities like Conan O'Brien and properties like Bleacher Report and its sports programming, Turner has deep insight into what this audience is interested in and sharing with their friends, Mr. Spiegel said. GBS plans to use that data to inform its content strategy and to target viewers. From there, it will gather its own proprietary data to figure out who watched a video and then use that to decide what to deliver them next.

If you are a fan of Kool-Aid on Facebook, we will be able to deliver this video to your feed, Mr. Berend said.

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