Casey Neistat’s $25 million deal will do for CNN what Casey did for YouTube
Ok let me start this off by saying that this article should be called “How CNN’s deal with Casey Neistat and Beme will change traditional media outlets in the same way that Casey changed the narrative of YouTube with his daily vlogs,” but that is way too long and the one I’ve gone with is way more SEO keyword friendly too.
If you’re not familiar with Casey Neistat let’s rewind a year and a half. Casey was a moderately successful YouTube film maker (who also had a short lived HBO TV series with his brother) who somewhat regularly created topically themed YouTube videos. Things that were in the pubic consciousness at the time, like Apple’s lack of iPod battery replacements, NYC bike lanes, and Chatroulette.
By no means am I trying to discredit the work he was doing, and in fact I was a fan even back then, but in essence Casey’s videos were cinematic (youtube-ematic?) Twitter rants, a far cry from the YouTube empire building force he became in the last 18 months.
So what changed? Casey decided to push himself creatively, and launched his daily vlog, releasing a “day in the life of” video every single day for the last 18 months. Now this wasn’t a new concept, people had done it before, but none of them with the personal style and film making experience that he showed, and the YouTube audience took notice, propelling him to 6 million subscribers and daily videos that each reached a couple to several million views.
You do the math if you want, I won’t spend time speculating on the ever changing secret YouTube payment algorithm, but there’s no doubt that this became a very lucrative business for Casey, into the millions of dollars in fact.
For YouTube, this meant that they finally had a success story that didn’t rely on making prank videos, or gaming videos, or otherwise disposable silly videos. A real community rose around daily vlogging, and it became a really profitable and respected career for many.
The thing with daily vlogging of this nature is that it really becomes a two way street. In sharing his day with his audience, he is inviting them into his personal life, and by utilizing YouTube comments and social media, this interaction raises levels of engagement that brands dream about. People actually cared. A lot of people actually cared.
At some point Casey helped launch a tech start up called Beme. Now I don’t know enough about the business side of things to comment with any sort of authority about how much money Casey spent, made, or how much ownership he actually has (I’ve heard numbers from 25% to 50% thrown around), but it certainly was an interesting passion project for the film maker turned vlogger turned YouTuber turned entrepreneur (all within about a year).
The essence of Beme was that it was a video based social network that required users to record short video bursts by holding their phone to their chest, meaning that they weren’t looking through their phone screen, but experience life through their own eyes (what a concept!) while still being able to share it with a community.
Like everything else in his life, we saw the development process in real time through the lens of his Canon DSLR. However the app never really took off. But the technology was there, and the company proved it by releasing a 2016 Election app on the day of the election that allowed voters to “Beme” their videos of support for candidates while at the polls, creating a real world real person narrative around the whole voting process that was often lost on big traditional media polls.
In a media world that has since been criticised for pushing an agenda to the point of being completely blindsided by the results; this has an amazingly disruptive cut through potential.
Now last week, Casey announced that he was going to quit his daily vlog to pursue other creative projects.
And then two days ago, an announcement was made. CNN was purchasing Beme (but closing the app down) and the team for $25million and Casey was staying on board to spear head the new project.
But what exactly is the new project? A lot of people online have started calling him a sell out (hi Reddit!), assuming/accusing that he would just be creating “propaganda” videos for CNN.
But what would be the point of that? CNN could just spend $25million on hiring film directors to do that for them, and they certainly have a reach that completely out weights even Casey’s YouTube subscriber base, and absolutely destroys Beme’s user base.
No. CNN bought a technology and an idea. Now nothing has been announced yet, but this is an educated guess from someone who loves YouTube, and digital media, while also working in the media industry.
What Beme, or rather the technology behind it as we know it will be renamed, has the potential to do is create a real second screen experience far more engaging and empowering than Twitter. To be honest, I think CNN bought the idea of the Election app more so than the generic app.
Putting this technology into their member base, people will not only be able to react to current events, but also help break news as it happens. This footage will then of course all belong to CNN, allowing them to weave these videos into their multiple digital and broadcast assets.
What it means for CNN is the same thing Casey meant for YouTube. It creates a community, one that I am sure CNN hopes people will actually care about, engage with, and help support through their own content, inspired by others, and connected.
In essence this is the ultimate second screen experience. It’s real life naturally aspired transmedia. More importantly, for CNN, it allows them to listen to their public, and include their audience in their stories, or appear to do so at the very least.
Perhaps that’s cynical of me to say; but I just don’t see a world where CNN lets through people’s voices unfiltered. Still, I’m excited, because this is a technology, that in today’s day and age, really allows people to have a voice and participate in real social discourse.
And if Casey can do that for CNN, the same thing he did for YouTube, inspire people to create content, and share their lives, and have a voice. Inspire people to try something that gets them out of their comfort zone. Inspire people to embrace people from other walks of life, and engage with them, and share and be a part of their story, then, well, that is twenty five million dollars well spent.