How CNN took a successful TV format to digital and then back again
Last month, CNN re-launched the TV format ‘‘Style.’’ The show is available for viewers worldwide. Smashdig got in touch with executive producer Matt Percival to ask him about the show and why CNN is moving from digital back to linear television.
Adam Jönsson: Why did you decide to re-launch CNN Style for a television audience?
Matt Percival: Back in 1980, when CNN launched, it did so with style. The show “Style with Elsa Klensch” made its debut on the very same day and it lasted for 20 years. So really it has always been in our DNA. The pillars of our style coverage – fashion, design, architecture, art, autos and luxury – are perfectly in tune with research on the tastes of CNN’s core audience. As a global news network, we have unparalleled access to the top creative talent; and so together with our production capabilities, we have a recipe for great content.
AJ: Where was the idea of the re-launch born? Can you take me through some of the discussions you had?
MP: I think it’s fair to say that there was no fixed masterplan to launch the TV show at a specific time. Inspiration more or less overwhelmed us from the digital launch and there was clearly a style-shaped hole on air. CNN Style was a strong brand, right from the start. A sophisticated visual feast. So it become apparent pretty quickly that TV should align, especially as we had editorial expertise in place from the digital team. There was also a desire to ramp up the video quota on the site. So we added more video resources to shoot for a monthly half-hour show – at more events, with more top-notch contributors. This naturally created the scope for an increase in bespoke digital video which served the overall cross-platform brand.
AJ: Can you tell me a bit more about what we’ll be seeing on the show?
MP: Generally speaking, we will focus on one location per month. This will be governed by an event or an ‘exclusive’. Episode two is shot mainly in New York around the Met Gala, as Oscar winning actors, fashion designers and music moguls descend upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the high point of New York’s social calendar. Our host Derek Blasberg joins Louis Vuitton’s creative director, Nicolas Ghesquiere, to learn about the dynamic power of the red carpet in fashion advertising and meets the girls he is dressing including Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connelly and Michelle Williams as they have their photo taken by legendary photographer Patrick Demarchelier. Ahead of the ball, Derek joins pop icon Selena Gomez during her final dress fitting as she gets ready for the gala. Derek also sits down with Naomi Campbell on the set of a Vogue Italia shoot.
The ball marks the opening of Manus x Machina – an exhibition exploring the vital role of technology in fashion. We speak to curator Andrew Bolton about how designers are reconciling the handmade and machine-made in works ranging from embroidery and lace work to 3D printing and ultrasonic welding. In Amsterdam we visit Iris van Herpen, the pioneer of a high tech movement. Resembling everything from insect exoskeletons to dismembered accordions, her clothes utilize technology to an extent rarely seen outside of a laboratory. The Dutch designer has collaborated with architects and scientists to develop materials and techniques including leather grown from cow cells, shape-shifting textiles triggered by heat and light-refracting fabric that renders the wearer invisible.
The show also visits the world’s leading design fair in Milan – the Salone del Mobile to bring you an in depth preview of Swarovski’s first furniture line. The Austrian powerhouse has employed some of the world’s top product designers and architects to design objects in their debut home line. We speak to Daniel Libeskind, Ron Arad and Fredrikson & Stallard to see how each has interpreted the brief and manipulated on the brand’s iconic crystal.
I’m not sure how we squeezed that line-up inside one show but it is reflective of our ambition. Episode three will come from Rome but that’s all I can say for now…
AJ: Why did you decide to take this digital format and worked to fit into a format that works for television?
MP: It was less ‘why’ and more ‘how’ – a rather fascinating process of reverse engineering to take a vast non-linear universe covering six broad topics, condense it all down to its essence and present it in a format that works for television. As pre-production ensued, the confines of television production seemed stifling when compared to the freedom of the digital space; a specified time slot, commercial breaks, the unfolding narrative and pre-conceived ideas about the structure – all underscored by the old TV mantra that the audience won’t miss what it hasn’t seen. It became a process of honing in on the very best on offer each month. There is also something reassuring in knowing that as a cross-platform brand, the TV show doesn’t have to be comprehensive because a host of other angles are covered online.
AJ: You talk about that you felt a need to have a host for the show. Why did you feel that need?
MP: There is a calendar of international events where the concept of ‘style’ manifests itself – the parties, fashion weeks, festivals, biennales etc. We wanted somebody on the inside of this social merry-go–round. Derek Blasberg lives this life. He is genuinely close to the people we want to ‘meet’ and is the perfect conduit to knit together our monthly journey.
AJ: Some people might argue this is the wrong way to go, that perhaps you should invest more resources in evolving the digital product. How important are television and the television audience to CNN?
MP: TV does not come at the expense of Digital. We have simply merged the two, both in terms of content and resources. And in many ways, the TV launch is a further investment in Digital because it ramps up the quota of quality video across the brand. Of course, the TV audience is still vitally important but we have an exciting new audience. We can’t pretend that the media landscape hasn’t changed. We are changing with it, especially with the growth of mobile. We have to earn our viewers and push CNN Style to the places where people are watching. Digital and social platforms are an integral part of our future.
AJ: What have the initial reactions of the show been like?
MP: Very positive. There’s genuine excitement. Most importantly we know there is a huge appetite out there for the core pillars of style around the world. And this show is unique – glamour with substance.
AJ: In the press release that went out, you said that up until two years ago you worked in television. How much have things changed for you and your role at CNN?
MP: Well, that comment was a little tongue-in-cheek. However, the changes unfolding across the media landscape are monumental. My role is fundamentally the same, managing a production department but it’s getting more complicated. We’re now producing screen-agnostic content or bespoke content for different platforms. The influence of what works digitally should ideally infuse our programming from the start. It’s about shifting our mindset and subtly broadening our skillets. But at the end of the day though, it still boils down to telling a good story.
AJ: Can you tell me a bit more about how you work at the CNNI Productions team?
MP: A producer/director for many years, I now manage CNNi Productions TV content out of the European headquarters in London. We produce a large proportion of the non-news programming – about 13 different programme strands, including the CNN Style show. We have many talented producers in-house and put simply, my job is help them produce their best work – both in terms of editorial or creative guidance and at the business end, managing budgets and resources. Never a dull moment.
You can read more about the show at CNN Style’s website. The next episode of the show airs on CNN Sat. May 14 at 8:30 p.m. and Sun. May 15 at 2:30 p.m.
Note: This interview was conducted via email.CNNMatt Percival