CNN’s Great Big Story eyes Scandinavia as it expands across Europe

It turns out American and Scandinavian audiences have a lot in common when it comes to video tastes. At least, that’s the case with Great Big Story’s videos, and is why the year-old social video network and independent CNN subsidiary, is now pushing hard into Europe — specifically the Nordics and Britain.

Next year, Great Big Story will have its first physical presence outside of the U.S. in Stockholm, having partnered with Swedish production startup Storyfire, courtesy of the CNN International Commercial team’s brokering skills. And it’s not stopping there. GBS is also hiring for five editorial roles for Great Big Story at CNN’s London newsroom.

This year, videos like “I Live in an Airplane,” “The 69-year-old in high school” and “Last Steps: The Really Great Big Story” traveled well with Scandinavian audiences, all stories based around areas like cultural history, perseverance or achievement and inspiration.

“It took us by surprise how well received the content has been in the Nordics,” said Andrew Morse, gm of CNN Digital worldwide. “So six months ago, we started looking at video opportunities there. The two things CNN and Great Big Story are focused on are video and mobile, and I can’t think of another market that’s as much on the bleeding edge of those things than the Nordics.”

Great Big Story claims 10 million viewers globally, across its own properties and its social media pages, which include Facebook and Snapchat. Videos gained 65 million views on Facebook in October, according to Tubular Labs. More than half a million people viewed GBS content via Facebook across the Nordic countries in October, accounting for 3 percent of its overall social media audience, according to CNN. It doesn’t yet have separate social media pages for different markets, but it will next year, along with its own GBS Nordics web channel.

The Nordics encompass Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — all countries which have high mobile consumption, according to Reuters research. In fact, more people use their smartphones to access news content in Sweden (69 percent) than in the U.K (50 percent) and Germany (40 percent), according to the same report.

Jan Scherman, producer and partner at Storyfire, said the Nordic market is highly competitive and that there is a battle raging between quality publishers and newer digital players, which are only interested in building traffic by whatever means necessary. “I call them the click-bait monsters,” he said.

By contrast, CNN has found a way to break through to younger audiences with great content, which is smartly distributed, he added. That’s something he plans to build on. To start, Storyfire will mine the GBS archive of 600 videos to see what can be repurposed and translated, before moving on to creating original content. “We hope to be making at least one original, local series a week in time,” he added.

When publishers expand overseas, they commonly partner with local media outlets or strike licensing deals. The challenge with these tactics is in maintaining brand tone and style, especially when in different languages. Given multiple languages are spoken across the Nordics, the Storyfire team has yet to hammer out details on exactly which languages GBS Nordics content will be in.

“We don’t just slap our brands on things,” said Greg Beitchman, vp of content sales and partnerships, CNN International Commercial. That’s why for the first six months, starting from January, staff from the Great Big Story will spend time with the Storyfire team, ensuring the outfit hits the ground running with the right kind of content.

The plan is for the London GBS team to work closely with the Storyfire team. “You can get on a plane from anywhere and cover the world, but when you’re living closer to a story and the environment it’s being told in, it’s better to have a team based in Europe,” added Beitchman. So the London team will spend a lot of time in the Nordics. And then we’ll see where else the content resonates,” he said.

So far, GBS has made its money from creating branded-content series for advertisers, and that’ll be the model for the Nordics also. It has worked with advertisers like HPE in the U.S., and Japanese airline ANA and Genesis internationally on GBS branded films.

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