YouTube star Casey Neistat announced he is leaving the video-sharing startup co-founder he and co-founder Matt Hackett sold to CNN a little over a year ago for $25 million.
Neistat recorded an emotional goodbye message that noted Beme would live on — without its founders. The video, distributed on YouTube, signals an end to CNN’s big bet that the social media personality would help the cable news network reach a new generation of news consumers.
“It’s easy to get sad and nostalgic about this, because Beme has been my life for the last three-plus years,” Neistat said. “And this is the end of the road for me. I am happy that Beme is going to live on — I’m happy that it’s going to live on inside CNN.”
Beme got its start as an app that allowed users to shoot and share quick, raw video clips. It got off to a strong start, thanks to Neistat’s social media standing. His YouTube videos would routinely attract millions of views, and his daily vlogs often get 250,000 hits within the first hours of going live, according to TechCrunch.
The founders thought of it as the social media equivalent of CNN broadcasting live footage of a 1993 constitutional crisis in Russia, in which leader Boris Yeltsin ordered his country’s own parliament building shelled, ending a coup attempt.
“In starting Beme, our goals were just as lofty: to reshape social media into the vehicle for candid, unfiltered perspectives that we always felt it should be,” Hackett wrote in a Medium post. “We wanted to create more empathy in the world by making the perspective of each of its inhabitants immediately and compellingly accessible through video.”
But Beme couldn’t compete as a stand-alone app, against rivals like Snapchat and Instagram. With CNN’s purchase, Beme was swept up under the cable news organization’s umbrella. The Beme app went dark but the company’s employees formed a separate technology unit within CNN to focus on mobile video efforts.
“Like us, CNN believes that technology should be used to share necessary information, to promote human understanding, not to simply manipulate attention. Truth matters,” Hackett noted at the time of the CNN acquisition. “Hearing voices and seeing perspectives far from your own matters. These principles, on which Beme was built, will form the core of our mission as a part of CNN.”
CNN’s grand ambitions, built around a YouTube personality whom CNN head Jeff Zucker learned about through his teenaged son, failed to materialize. Neistat confided to BuzzFeed news that he could never figure out a workable strategy for Beme News and, as he grew increasingly frustrated, he basically checked out.
“I couldn’t find answers. I would sort of disappear, and I would hide, and I would make YouTube videos for my channel because at least I would be able yield something,” Neistat told BuzzFeed. “I don’t think I’m giving CNN what I want to give them, and I don’t think they’re getting value from me.”
Members of Beme’s product and development team have been offered jobs at CNN. Work will continue on a pair of mobile apps — one, now in private Beta testing, that would allow users to create cable-news-styled video panel discussions around a given topic, and another would let users tap into live video feeds from all over the world. Some of Beme’s media team also have been offered jobs at CNN Digital Studios.
CNN sought to put the best face on the setback.
“You can’t be afraid to take chances if you want to stay on top of an industry that is changing every day,” said Andrew Morse, general manager of CNN Digital Worldwide. “This was a chance worth taking — we built products and developed key talent that have made CNN stronger.”
Here’s Neistat’s video: