In 2016, CNN announced it was investing $20 million (£16m) to expand its digital operations, with a particular focus on web video, mobile and increasing its global footprint.
As part of the expansion, Vivek Kemp, executive producer for CNN Digital and CNN Digital Studios, moved to London to build a Digital Studios team to produce original video, particularly in the EMEA region. Prior to that, Kemp was based in New York, where he co-founded the Studios with senior vice president for digital video Chris Berend in 2014.
Since August, Kemp has added 15 people to the team, both freelance and full-time, a mix of producers focusing on news and special projects, as well as motion graphics designers. Their aim is to go beyond breaking news and traditional TV reporting and create digital video for CNN's premium verticals, such as CNN Style, CNN Travel and CNN Politics.
"We create content that fundamentally spans any size screen that you have, whether that's a phone, desktop or a large movie screen," Kemp said.
"Digital video takes many different forms and we're not choosy about the format, but we're very choosy about making sure it's working on the platform in the best possible way, and that we're telling the best possible story."
The Digital Studios team works closely with CNN's social producers and other digital divisions to produce videos for platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as short documentaries that can be anything from three minutes to ten minutes long, and are mostly designed to be watched on desktop or the online streaming platform CNNGo.
"[Digital Studios] is less about going out and shooting something exclusively for social or mobile, we focus on telling a great story and then we work with everyone else to make sure it works on various platforms."
A few months ago, CNN Digital Studios produced a 360-degree video of a Syrian family who had moved into a former hospital building after fleeing their home in Aleppo, which showed how they were trying to clear up the rubble to be able to live there. "You could do that for Instagram, or you could tell it using your mobile or a VR camera, but the point is that the story is at the heart of it".
Another example are explainer videos, which CNN has focused on since its earlier experiments with digital video. Recent news explainers include a video on the role of NATO, after president Donald Trump referred to it as obsolete, and a piece looking at the rise of populism following the US election and Brexit.
Next week, CNN will launch a project that came out of an interview with Bill Gates conducted a few months ago. While the interview itself lasted less than ten minutes, instead of putting that video on the website and adapting it for social platforms, the Digital Studios team decided to "go deeper into the story".
After Gates talked about how some nations and individuals around the world are actively taking steps to help solve major global issues such as famine, CNN sent a producer to Tanzania to report on a group of scientists who are working to eradicate Malaria by creating everyday items that act as mosquito repellents. Another producer was sent to Kenya to look into a social network for farming, which allows less experienced farmers or those based in remote communities to get support and advice from a network of more than 120,000 farmers around the world.
"We decided to put boots on the ground to report and illustrate the stories [Gates talked about] and the people that are actually driving that change, and take our audiences in places where they may not go themselves."
Ever since it launched in 2014, Digital Studios has produced a range of web series, such as City of Tomorrow, Street food with Roy Choi and Pixel on CNN Style, and Kemp said they will continue to invest in this format in the coming year.
"The content we create in Digital Studios is very story-based, and what we are trying to do is go deeper into stories and tell narratives that people will want to come back to and consume again."
Free daily newsletter
- CNN launches Facebook-funded mobile-first daily news show 'Go There'
- The old, the new and the unexpected mediums for telling human stories
- Lessons in newsroom innovation from Perugia
- CNN provides a window into life under Taliban rule for the first time in 17 years
- Thirty-six hours with the Taliban: an all-female CNN crew shows a different reality of life in Afghanistan