CNN’s defunct short documentary brand, Great Big Story, is being revived this month by Gabriel Jagger’s media start-up Whynow.
Billing itself as a producer of “cinematic storytelling”, Great Big Story produced three to 15 minute videos on “the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing” for five years until it was shuttered by CNN in September 2020.
Whynow announced on Monday it had agreed a partnership to license the Great Big Story brand from CNN. Whynow will retain the outlet’s old content and release new videos from the week commencing 30 January.
Whynow founder Jagger is the youngest son of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and model Jerry Hall, who was until recently married to Rupert Murdoch. Private Eye has reported that the younger Jagger was “given a large sum of money by Murdoch to start his own media business”, although Whynow representatives declined to confirm that claim when asked by Press Gazette.
Whynow runs a news and review website dedicated to media and arts and produces television and podcasts for other brands. Previous works have included four series of The Sunday Times Culture Show and the BBC Four show Alan Yentob In Conversation.
The business said in a statement that it “has invested in five brands in the last 12 months. The Great Big Story deal makes this the sixth brand to join the fold and is the largest to date”.
Asked about the company’s interest in Great Big Story, Albertine Rae, an executive producer at Whynow, said: “It all started off as Gabe [Jagger] and myself being huge fans of Great Big Story. And when it went dormant a couple of years ago, Gabe started a conversation with CNN and expressed an interest…
“We can relaunch it and kind of bring it back to life because there’s a whole library of incredible content on there which is still pretty popular. And we want to build on that – the world is still full of stories and we want to tell some of them.”
Asked about the business case for reviving the brand, Rae said Great Big Story still had “a loyal audience”.
Whynow head of development Howard Cohen added: “The thing to bear in mind here is obviously, the bloke that runs this place, Mr Jagger, is highly ambitious. And acquiring this is a huge opportunity to create something that has masses of potential reach…
“Every time you come on Great Big Story every week to see a new video, it should make you feel like – ‘Oh good, I’m going to enjoy this and I’m not going to feel cynical or angry’, which the internet is very good at making people do – we don’t need to add to that. Gabe will often say: ‘We don’t need to add to the anger that is already out there.’”
Cohen emphasised that the new Great Big Story will be open to pitches from “filmmakers around the world”.
Great Big Story was originally launched by Andrew Morse, the CNN executive (and now Atlanta Journal-Constitution publisher) who would go on to spearhead the launch of $300m streaming service CNN+, which was scrapped one month after launch shortly after the newly-merged Warner Bros Discovery took control of CNN.
Digiday reported in November 2020 that Great Big Story had “never turned an annual profit” in its five-year history, although employees interviewed in the piece attributed that more to institutional issues inside Time Warner than a problem with the brand’s core business model.
Asked how Whynow convinced CNN to license Great Big Story, Cohen said: “I would say that Gabe Jagger could convince people of a lot of things.”
But under the new structure, the Whynow staff do not expect CNN to be particularly involved. “We have the licence and we have editorial guidelines, but we have complete editorial freedom,” said Whynow head of events Emma Turner.
Press Gazette asked what those guidelines looked like. “Long,” said Cohen.
Turner added: “I think in summary it’s just like – no guns, no booze, no boobs, basically.”
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