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Why Did CNN Just Buy a Totally Useless App?

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This morning, CNN announced that it had acquired Beme, YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat’s middling, authenticity-obsessed social media app. Neistat, co-founder Matt Hackett, and the app’s team will all join CNN’s ranks, where they’ll “launch a new media brand dedicated to timely and topical video content powered by bleeding edge mobile technology.”

As part of the deal, Beme, which never quite drummed up enough enthusiasm, vitriol, or hysteria to make a memorable mark, will shut down. It’s a quiet but ultimately fitting end for the video app, which sold itself as a beacon of “realness” hellbent on disrupting the fakery of social media. Now, Neistat, Hackett, and Beme’s employees will spend their days dreaming up ways to make CNN a little less fusty.

The “authentic” sales pitch for Beme was relatively ballsy coming from Neistat, who built his empire as a YouTube personality. The app, which let users post 8-second long video clips without the ability to preview or edit, launched in July 2015, and things looked rosy. It reportedly raised $2.6 million in seed funding and claimed users shared 1.1 million videos in the first week alone.


But as with some of its experimental-social competitors—remember Yo, Peach, and Ello?—Beme didn’t quite change the social media landscape in the way its founders had hoped. Its beta version was buggy, its user growth was sluggish, and the twinkling dust eventually settled.

“At the end of [2015], we had a harsh realization that we were not such a shining star and were much more aligned with other social media launches,” Neistat told Mashable in May. “Downloads slowed to a few thousand a day from a much more robust number and active engagement became a lot less than what it was.”


The app continued to release updates and drum up publicity—most recently, it pushed out Exit Poll, an app pegged to the election—but Neistat, the app’s most famous face, wasn’t quite as hot on it as he once was. Most of his most recent YouTube videos neglect to mention Beme at all, and in August, Reddit users began questioning whether he had stopped using it altogether.

Now, we have an explanation: The app was destined for the slaughterhouse. But why, then, did CNN—the network you best know as the soundtrack to your doctor’s office—decide to pick up the faltering and relatively boring social platform?

The answer, unsurprisingly, has to do with the dreaded millennial generation.

“Going after millennials [was a] huge part of it,” Matt Dornic, vice president of communications at CNN, told Gizmodo this morning. “We’re realistic in knowing we have to diversify. Casey and Matt reach an audience we don’t.”


That doesn’t mean the two were immediately sold on the idea, however. “I was a bit skeptical [at first],” Matt Hackett told Gizmodo of CNN’s interest. “But the more we talked to them,” the more he and Neistat saw something they liked. (The terms of the deal weren’t made public, but CNN noted that “It’s more about ‘what will be’ than ‘what has been.’”)

As the New York Times points out, CNN’s competitors are also trying to make themselves more attractive to Youths. NBCUniversal recently invested $200 million in Buzzfeed (its second $200 million investment in the viral media giant), and threw the same amount at Vox Media in 2015; AMC recently announced it had purchased a minority stake in Funny or Die.


And this isn’t CNN’s first go around, either—it snapped up a small team of Buzzfeed politics reporters in October. (In a followup email to Gizmodo, CNN’s communications VP Matt Dornic made the following suggestion: “Some of us are cool at CNN. Like me. Try to work that into your piece.”)

When we asked Hackett how he felt about the death of his prized app, he seemed unfazed. “To be honest, I think I’m very unsentimental about it,” he said. “We’ve of course poured our lives into it, but the mission ... our sense of wanting social media to be what it can be—not the fake version of yourself—that’s more important, and if Beme wasn’t the app that was going to achieve it, fine.” CNN’s resources, he added, don’t hurt either.


As for the kinds of projects the new venture will produce, all parties are keeping things vague. (The media company doesn’t even have a name yet.) Whatever it is, don’t be surprised to see Neistat taking up space on your TV screen.

“We’re exploring every possible way for Casey and our media venture to connect with new audiences,” CNN said. “Stay tuned.”