CNN launches CNN Business with a focus on Silicon Valley

CNN is taking the wraps off its new business site, CNN Business, to reflect an increased emphasis on Silicon Valley. CNN is ditching the CNNMoney brand, which was part of a joint venture with then-Time Inc.’s Money and Fortune magazines going back to 2001.

“The driving force behind this change is, we felt the CNNMoney brand wasn’t quite up to telling the generational story of business news at this moment,” said Jason Farkas, who’s running the new site as vp and gm of CNN Business. “If you work at an auto or retail or financial services firm, at the core, all of those are technology companies. Money magazine is really tips and tricks for people trying to balance their financial life. We didn’t think it could stretch far enough.”

CNN staffed up with 200 new digital hires in the past couple of years but then laid off a few dozen this year. Casualties including the Snapchat and VR teams and the CNN MoneyStream app that delivered personalized business news. (The app still exists but is just an automated feed.) To fuel the new site, CNN Business is hiring six to eight people to staff a new San Francisco bureau, its biggest outside of New York City, for a total of about 70 editorial staffers, including 30 covering media and tech.

CNN Business will have several new verticals and franchises to showcase big names in tech and business. There will be an opinion section with pieces by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates and a deep dive into how Amazon works, for instance. CNN Business still wants to be taken seriously when it comes to breaking news, since that’s such a big part of CNN’s identity, so market news will be live-streamed and live-blogged, but certain political-related economics stories will be handed off to the news desk, Farkas said.

As for the bread-and-butter content CNNMoney used to deliver, CNN Business is aiming at a more upscale audience now. “We want to do less entry-level, personal finance coverage,” said Farkas. “We’re upscaling the coverage we used to do to distance ourselves from the Money magazine brand. We want to be a resource for them, but not in a newbie sense.”

There’s already a lot of tech business coverage out there, but CNN’s contention is that no one else is covering tech’s impact on the rest of business as it will.

“If you look carefully at a publication like Wired or Recode or TechCrunch, they’re primarily covering the technology space,” Farkas said. “NBC or Bloomberg, they’re covering it through the lens of what this means for the end investor. We want to cover the story of how business outside the tech sector is being affected by the tech sector. We think it’s the compelling narrative no one else is telling.”

The expectation is that the focus on tech and its big-name CEOs will help CNN Business make inroads with financial, tech and luxury advertisers. Fidelity is sponsoring the site’s launch.

Beyond ads, CNN is looking for other ways to make money as it along with other digital media companies have missed financial targets. Farkas said CNN Business won’t have a premium, consumer-paid model built in at launch, but over time the plan was to diversify the business model. “We’ve got to hone in on the audience and then the business models will evolve,” he said.

Media buyers said the CNNMoney brand didn’t stand out from other business news publishers and that the shift away from that brand could help CNN define itself. CNNMoney reached 26.5 million unique visitors in August, seventh in the business news category behind sites like Yahoo-HuffPost Finance Network, CNBC and Bloomberg, per comScore.

“CNNMoney is limited,” said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of The Media Kitchen. “I give them credit for saying their name means something. CNN Business reflects their view of the world. When you call yourself CNNMoney, it says you’re focused on the way businesses make money as opposed to the larger cultural consequences of being in business.”

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