CNN shuts down Casey Neistat’s Beme, but some of its digital news tech will live on

CNN’s attempt at expanding its digital news business by bringing in a top YouTube creator has failed. According to a confirmed report from BuzzFeed, CNN is closing down YouTube star Casey Neistat’s video business, Beme, which it bought for a reported $25 million back in 2016. In addition, the YouTuber and his co-founder, Matt Hackett, are also leaving the company.

Neistat spoke to BuzzFeed about his inability to figure out a strategy for “Beme News,” which CNN had hoped would become a central part of its digital news business. The channel he created under CNN’s brand, Beme News, has over 269,000 YouTube subscribers, but has only put out a few dozen videos to date.

CNN said it will work to find some different roles for some of the 22-person Beme team, but others would be let go with severance. It will also continue to develop some of the products under the Beme umbrella, including a yet-to-launch live news app called Wire, BuzzFeed reports.

Hackett, in an unpublished blog post, detailed the team’s efforts while at CNN and revealed more about its products’ future.

“This is not the story of the aging conglomerate that couldn’t innovate and rejected the young startup blood. CNN left us genuinely independent post-acquisition, with a financial, editorial, and technological leash as long as we could wish for,” he said.

“Over the past year, we’ve experimented wildly in technology-enabled news, an area where the world needs experimentation. We built two products and a YouTube channel I’m very proud of. Ultimately, while we have built some valuable things, we didn’t hit the escape velocity the business needed to exist independently,” Hackett added.

Some of the things the Beme team built will continue to live on following the shutdown, including Wire, which BuzzFeed had noted, as well as an app called Panels, and the Beme News video channel.

Hackett described Wire as a machine-learning powered platform for journalists who cover live news, and said this will become a “key part of what CNN is building for mobile.”

Meanwhile, Beme Panels, which is live on iOS, offers a way for real people to give their feedback about the news in a social format. This will be incorporated into CNN’s core experience, Hackett said.

Above: Beme Panels

Beme could have been something of CNN’s answer to the live-streamed business news network Cheddar, in terms of attracting a younger audience who doesn’t necessarily watch – or even own a TV – but who get their news online and through streaming video.

This is an area a number of media companies are today exploring, including most recently Bloomberg, which launched a Twitter news network TicToc. Even BuzzFeed itself is finding new ways to distribute its news content, like through its partnership with Spotify in the music app’s new Spotlight feature.

Beme’s closure is not CNN’s first failure in digital news expansions, we should note. The company has been attempting to target a more millennial audience through a variety of initiatives, including a Snapchat news show that launched shortly after NBC’s. But while NBC still claims decent viewership (“tens of millions”) for its short-form news series on Snapchat, CNN killed its Snapchat news show only four months after its debut.

The social app Beme had already been shut down ahead of Neistat’s exit, and the closure of the Beme News division at CNN.

CNN’s failure should be a warning to the rest of the industry hoping to buy their way into millennial success by teaming up with YouTube stars. While social media superstars may be knowledgeable about growing their own subscriber base, they’re not necessarily poised to translate that success to aid another brand – especially in the news business, when they don’t have a background in reporting.