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CNN Acquires Beme to Work with YouTube Star – But It Still Lacks Platform Innovation

Cable networks are desperate for millennial viewers. Just look at how cable news networks have changed over the last few years to incorporate social media like Twitter and Instagram into their shows. Still, millennial viewership of cable news is in decline.

So in an effort to connect with younger viewers, CNN just announced its acquisition of the app Beme, the startup created by YouTube star Casey Neistat. Beme’s 12 employees, including Neistat, will join CNN as part of the deal.

According to The New York Times, Neistat will be given control of a separate company charged with attracting a younger audience.

“Casey has tapped into nearly six million really powerful viewers, most of which do not tune in to CNN,” Andrew Morse, global head of CNN Digital, said in an interview.

CNN President Jeff Zucker also has talked a lot about his desire to make CNN a “digital company.” But arguably, CNN still hasn’t gone far enough.

CNN doesn’t need to become a digital company. It needs digital transformation, to become a platform company. The companies that are taking away CNN’s viewership aren’t traditional media companies; they’re content platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. They create their own organic celebrities and let users interact with them and each other more openly and more productively than comment sections.

Using a YouTube celebrity like Neistat to create a company that lets users participate in the conversation around news is a good start, but CNN should go even farther in creating its own platform for news. Aggregate a field of people who would already be out sharing news events with the world and connect them to CNN’s massive audience.

Rather than just one YouTube star, CNN should be looking to attract all of them by offering them a platform to comment on – or break – news. A mix of live broadcasting and recorded video, backed by CNN’s large network of advertisers to help producers monetize, would be a fantastic place to start.

Rather than paying huge on-air talent large salaries that CNN has to carry on its balance sheet, CNN would let the network decide who the best producers are and compensate them as their shows get watched using advertising dollars.

So will CNN let Neistat create a platform like this? It seems unlikely for now, but only time will tell. Perhaps Neistat’s team can convince their new bosses to try on a new approach.

Traditional media companies are afraid of giving this kind of control to their audience. Yet, if they want to win back millennial viewers from platforms like Snapchat, they have to become platforms themselves.

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