Debacle at CNN as $20 million digital star Casey Neistat abruptly leaves company

YouTube star Casey Neistat -- hired by Jeff Zucker on the recommendation of his teenage son -- has abruptly walked away from CNN less than two years after Zucker’s news organization reportedly paid more than $20 million for his video-sharing startup Beme.

Neistat and Beme co-founder Matt Hackett were supposed to focus on “timely and topical video and empowering content creators to use technology to find their voice,” according to a CNN statement from 2016. However, the founders were never able to find success at CNN despite lofty expectations, and Beme will no longer be a standalone business.

Neistat and Hackett will both leave the company, according to a BuzzFeed report that was confirmed by a CNN source.

“I couldn’t find answers. I would sort of disappear, and I would hide, and I would make YouTube videos for my channel because at least I would be able to yield something,” Neistat told BuzzFeed. “I don’t think I’m giving CNN what I want to give them, and I don’t think they’re getting value from me.”

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Neistat’s (lower left) failure at CNN is the latest debacle for Zucker (center), who oversees a network that is regularly mocked as “fake news” by President Trump.  (The Hollywood Reporter)

CNN planned for Beme to emerge as a vital part of its digital operation, but Neistat told BuzzFeed that it became a source of frustration and creative conflicts stopped it from emerging as a successful digital news brand.

A CNN source told Fox News that the remaining Beme operations, such as its YouTube channel, will live on under the CNN umbrella. “Most” Beme employees will be offered new roles under CNN Digital Studios or as part of the network’s product team, but it is unclear how many will accept the offer, the source said.

“It wasn’t working out,” the CNN source said of Neistat.

Back in March 2017, Neistat appeared on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter with CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker and three of the network’s biggest stars: Jake Tapper, Anthony Bourdain and W. Kamau Bell. The cover story detailed how Zucker opened CNN’s wallet to Neistat because his 16-year-old son thought it was a good idea.

“Jeff says to me, ‘You know, we have a huge news operation here; it's a global enterprise… But my son says that you're the only person who matters in media,’” Neistat told the magazine.

Meanwhile, Steven Perlberg, the same BuzzFeed reporter who first reported that Neistat would leave CNN and Beme would be shuttered, reported in September that CNN’s digital unit was “facing a $20 million budget shortfall.” A CNN rep downplayed the report at the time by touting CNN Digital’s 2017 revenue and taking a shot at BuzzFeed. 

President and Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal Jeff Zucker arrives at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's 2010 Humanitarian Award Ceremony honoring producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard in Beverly Hills, California May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS) - GM1E6560XLA01

CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker reportedly went after Casey Neistat because his teenage son thought it was a good idea.

Neistat’s failure at CNN is the latest debacle for Zucker, who oversees a network that is regularly mocked as “fake news” by President Trump. Zucker was recently rumored to be among the candidates to take over ESPN, but sources have told Fox News that he was never a serious contender for the gig and the reports have “annoyed” Disney executives. 

CNN did not respond to request for comment.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.