Television & Cinema

How we created CNN Style for TV

By: Matt Percival, Executive Producer and Commissioning Editor, CNN International

When CNN launched back in 1980, it did so with style. “Style with Elsa Klensch” made its debut the same dayCNN went on the air. For many, the show set the styleagenda for twenty-one years on television.

On April 9, 2016, we re-launch in the guise of “CNN Style”. It will be the latest production from the global CNNI Productions team; which collectively produces most ofCNN International’s non-news programming.  Except it’s not like any show we’ve ever made before.

We are to be the TV face of our hugely successful digital product, CNN Style – highly visual and increasingly video-driven content. It blazed the trail, launching first in the summer of 2015.

CNN Style is a global and cross-platform brand covering fashion, design, architecture, art, autos and luxury. For want of a better word, it is rather stylish. It is also prime real-estate, perfectly in tune with research about the tastes of CNN’s core audience and most importantly a younger demographic.

And now, shock horror, a TV show in its wake. Cue a fascinating process of reverse engineering for any tried and tested TV producer – to take the DNA of a non-linear universe covering six broad topics, condense it all down to its essence and present it in format that works for television.

As pre-production ensued, the confines of television production seemed stifling when compared to the vast digital space already in place; 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.

To anchor the show, we decided to be guided each month by the key events in the style calendar – the biennales, expos and exhibitions, art fairs, fashion weeks and design festivals. For TV producers who seek format and focus, this provides a backdrop, a city and a more manageable canvas for 30 minutes each month.

While research suggests that digital viewers can be turned off by the presence of a presenter, for the TV show, to host or not to host, was the question for a considerable number of meetings. Host it was, in the form of journalist and author Derek Blasberg. The charismatic New Yorker is relishing the task ahead, following in the footsteps of the iconic Elsa Klensch. And on our part, we felt the overriding need for a personality to interact with the people and events that will help us grasp the concept of style on an international scale.

Once upon a time TV programmes ruled the network. Shows were commissioned for TV, planned for TV, produced for TV. Websites and show pages were the spin-offs. I hesitate to suggest exactly when it shifted definitively (and of course, the revolution has only just begun) but let’s just say for the sake of argument that up until about two years ago I worked in television. Now, I oversee a department that is adapting its skillset to produce platform agnostic content – nomadic video assets held to account by social media and analytics. And above all, a world in which the emphasis is on us to generate our own audience. Gone are the days when the viewers meekly sit and wait for the curtain to rise. They’re on the move with their screens and to hold their attention, we’re forced to sell our wares to each and every one of them.

I’d like to think we’ve come up with something that will cut through. Art Basel in Hong Kong sets the scene for the likes of Sheikha Al Mayassa (sister of the Emir of Qatar), Tracey Emin, Lewis Hamilton, Rita Ora and Chinese artist Li Songsong to usher in the new vintage of Style on CNNInternational.

It’s exciting. And this TV dog is learning a whole bunch of new tricks. The show is the embodiment of the changes taking place across the industry – inside these walls and beyond. We’re moving fast with the times and with a bit of luck, we’re doing it in style.

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