Casey Neistat discusses his venture with CNN at SXSW

An image from a YouTube video Neistat posted titled 'i sold my company to CNN'

Many of Casey Neistat’s fans and followers were surprised when the popular YouTube blogger announced late last year that he’d sold his video-sharing app Beme to CNN. During an hourlong panel at SXSW, Neistat attempted to clear up some of the confusion around why he decided to get involved with the news organization.

Neistat explained to attendees that the initial reason why he started his daily YouTube vlog in 2015 was to promote Beme and chronicle what it’s like to be a tech entrepreneur. When he realized that was “super boring,” he decided to turn the video blog into a more lighthearted series of videos that documented himself doing things like snowboarding through Manhattan and reviewing McDonald’s create-your-own burgers.

As Beme began to falter - Neistat said that he and the app’s team were “getting our asses absolutely handed to us by Snapchat” - the vlog continued to pick up steam. His YouTube channel currently has more than six million subscribers.

“As the tech company was sort of struggling, this other thing that was supposed to support that was skyrocketing off, which was the vlog,” he told the audience.

Neistat said that when he began meeting with different people and companies to determine next steps for Beme, he found that they were interested in not only the intellectual property and team behind the app but also his vlog.

“To me, the YouTube channel was just something that I did and the company was this very serious thing. The people that I was talking to, they were interested in both,” he said.

He said that while he met with a lot of “really smart people,” his meeting with CNN excited him the most because he was able to get a better understanding of “what they were doing and what they were trying to do in the digital space.” Even so, Neistat admitted that he initially had reservations about joining CNN, but ultimately felt that it was the right decision.

“This idea of working for this monster of a company, building something entirely new in the news space, felt so radical and foreign,” he said.

Neistat ended his daily vlog shortly before CNN announced the $25m acquisition of Beme and has since remained mum on what exactly he’ll be doing with the media company. Although the Beme brand has officially been shut down, the startup’s team has travelled to CNN along with Neistat. Last year, CNN told the Wall Street Journal that Neistat and Beme co-founder Matt Hackett will focus on “timely and topical video and empowering content creators to use technology to find their voice.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Neistat’s first undertaking with the news behemoth will be a daily live video show that he’ll host.

“There are so many questions around what we’re doing with CNN,” Neistat said during his SXSW talk, joking that “if you’ve watched any of the highly informative YouTube videos I’ve made about what we’re doing with CNN where I literally say ‘i have no idea what I'm doing with CNN,’ you’ll know that I literally have no idea what I’m doing with CNN.”

While he didn’t go into much detail, Neistat added that his approach with CNN will be one that involves lots of testing and learning. Instead of focusing on a particular structure or format, Neistat said that he and his team will push different things out to see what works and what doesn’t.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

All by Minda