By STEVEN PERLBERG
CNN is creating an in-house studio that will produce news-like content on behalf of advertisers, a move that reflects marketers’ growing desire for articles and videos that feel like editorial work.
About a dozen staffers (made up of journalists, filmmakers and designers) will help launch the new unit, called Courageous. The division will fashion and distribute “branded content” across CNN’s fleet of properties, from TV to the Web and newer platforms like Snapchat.
This isn’t the first foray into branded content for CNN, which is owned by Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting. CNN’s recent push into more digital video yielded 18 original series last year, 17 of which are sponsored by a company.
But the idea now is to work more closely with companies to highlight things that may have news value, such as the building of a manufacturing plant or a philanthropic effort, according to Otto Bell, the lead of the studio and former creative director at OgilvyEntertainment.
Mr. Bell said that his team would be staffed with “folks who have journalistic instincts” who would go into a company and “find that newsworthy element and extract that.”
CNN’s new endeavor comes as more media companies invest in creating these types of in-house shops to help bolster revenue. Music companies like iHeartMedia and Pandora offer branded content studios, and news companies from the New York Times to BuzzFeed to The Wall Street Journal have units that create advertiser content. Condé Nast recently launched a program where magazine editors work directly with brands.
These undertakings often raise church-and-state questions about the divide between the editorial and business sides of a company.
“This isn’t about confusing editorial with advertising,” said Dan Riess, executive vice president of integrated marketing and branded content at Turner. “This is about telling advertisers’ stories — telling similar stories but clearly labeling that and differentiating that.”
Mr. Riess said CNN’s trustworthiness when it comes to news was part of the reason Courageous would be attractive to advertisers.
“This is CNN. We’re not here to blur the lines,” he said.
The new offering comes weeks after Turner made its “upfront” presentation to advertisers, which the broadcaster used to showcase new programs as well as the company’s data chops.
Mr. Riess added that, thanks to the company’s data-focused approach, CNN has the ability to give a brand’s content wide distribution and then report back on the extent to which it’s driving consumer interest.