Hot on the current trend of marketers’ want for articles and videos that feel like editorial work, CNN is creating an in-house studio that will produce news-like content on behalf of advertisers. Otto Bell, the lead of the studio and former creative director at Ogilvy Entertainment says the idea is to work more closely with companies to highlight things that may have news value, such as philanthropic efforts, the building of new plants etc. About a dozen journalists, filmmakers and designers will launch the unit which is called "Courageous". As in "It was very courageous and brave, if not crazy as well" to quote CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. The unit will be able to deliver branded content across all of CNN's channels, from TV to the web and includes places like Snapchat.
Mr. Bell said that his team would be staffed with “folks who have journalistic instincts” who would go into a company and “find that newsworthy element and extract that.”
CNN is just following suit like so many other outlets who have discovered that traditional advertising - which used to reside next to editorial content - isn't paying the bills in the era of giving the publication away for free, chasing the click high instead of the steady subscriber. News outlets from the New York Times to The Wall Street Journal have units that create advertiser content. Condé Nast recently launched a program where magazine editors work directly with brands, and music companies like iHeartMedia and Pandora offer branded content studios as well. Even Snapchat launched truffle pig, a branded content social media agency to complement their already established "Discover" feature that allows its users to view short videos from publishers like CNN, ESPN, Vice, and Cosmo.
If it seems like "Courageous" will kill what little credibility CNN has left, with the line ever more blurred between editorial and paid for advertising in their content, Dan Weiss, executive vice president of integrated marketing and branded content at Turner, wants you to not worry:
"This isn’t about confusing editorial with advertising, this is about telling advertisers’ stories — telling similar stories but clearly labeling that and differentiating that.
Mr. Riess lives in an alternate universe where CNN is still considered trustworthy, and said that CNN’s trustworthiness when it comes to news was part of the reason Courageous would be attractive to advertisers. "This is CNN. We’re not here to blur the lines" Clearly not. CNN is here to be mocked by Jon Stewart for their bogus Boston bombing reporting and for fact checking SNL skits. CNN has by now a famous lack of decent map readers, as they've placed Hong Kong in South America, confused "Niger" with "Nigeria", and moved London to Norfolk when making map graphics - mistakes that often become the joke de jour on social media.
This new venture does not exist in a vacuum, it's mere weeks after the Turner "Upfront" Presentation was introduced to advertisers, where Turner showed off their data chops and bragged about "disrupting their own business model".
"Today is a historic day," Donna Speciale, president of Turner Broadcasting Ad Sales told the audience. "For the first time, all of Turner is together on one stage. We're focusing all our assets on your business needs, to help drive your results. To do that, all of our divisions are working together, re-inventing what it means to be a content company. To us, change means opportunity, and we are disrupting our own business model to grab hold of all the incredible opportunities ahead. That's what we mean when we say, 'TURN IT UP!'"
"Thanks to the company’s data-focused approach" Mr. Riess added "CNN has the ability to give a brand’s content wide distribution and then report back on the extent to which it’s driving consumer interest", much like Google's "real-time trends" for journalists . Independent journalism is soon officially dead, folks, all we have now is 57 channels with advertising on.