The finale of CNN+’s “Land of the Giants: Titans of Tech,” titled “The Netflix Effect,” launches Thursday, perfect timing for an entertainment industry that is both reeling amid Netflix’s shocking Q1 subscriber miss, poor second-quarter outlook and the wait to see if CNN+ can find its groove as quickly as it might need to in order to survive.
Based on the “Land of the Giants” podcast from Vox Media’s Recode, the CNN+ docuseries explores the complicated histories of Meta (a.k.a. Facebook), Apple, Amazon, Google and now Netflix. The final episode focuses on Netflix’s origins and its founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who on Tuesday revealed he is finally open to creating a lower-priced, ad-supported option for the streaming service, which lost 200,000 subscribers by the end of March.
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Vox Media Studios president Marty Moe and chief creative officer of Vox Media Studios Chad Mumm, told Variety this deep-dive into Netflix on the “Land of the Giants” podcast was what sold the TV adaptation to CNN.
“This was in the middle of the pandemic, and the Netflix episodes of the podcast came out,” Mumm said. “Within a week, I got calls from two different networks, one of which was CNN, with the programming exec saying, ‘Our CEO listened to the Netflix episode and said, we should make a TV show about this.'”
At that time, the CEO of CNN was the now-ousted Jeff Zucker, who has been succeeded by Chris Licht at the media giant owned by WarnerMedia, which recently merged with Discovery to create Warner Bros. Discovery.
“For them, it was the first time they’d done anything on companies, really,” Mumm added. “Our pitch was basically, this is about power and it’s just as relevant as doing the Bushes, or the Windsors or any of those subjects of series. These founders and the impacts of these companies go way beyond the products. But it was funny that it literally was, the CEOs of CNN and another competing media company listened to the podcast and said, we should go make a show.”
Mumm promises that even if you’ve heard the Netflix episode of the “Land of the Giants” podcast, you’re in for some surprises with the CNN+ show’s finale. “Things have changed over at Netflix since we started making the podcast. And then even as we were making the show, obviously, Netflix has had a lot of change in the last year and a half, two years, so there’s going to be a lot of fresh material in there. We’ve got great new stuff building off what was in the podcast.”
“Land of the Giants” was originally developed by Vox Media Studios for CNN, with Mumm saying the move to CNN+ came “as we were finishing the show,” and CNN decided it wanted the series to be a launch title for the new streamer, which debuted March 29 at $5.99/per month pricing. Mumm and Moe told Variety the series will have its linear debut on CNN proper later this year.
“It’s going to have a long life out there,” Moe said. “And we continue to do podcast episodes and seasons for ‘Land of the Giants,’ so, as a franchise, it will continue to evolve, continue to develop, grow and be available for coming seasons in the television market, as well. But it’s not our first time working with Amy Entelis and her team. We love them. We love their creativity. One of our first big shows was with them, called ‘American Style,’ a few years ago, which was a big show on their network. So like with other players, like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, Amazon, it’s longstanding and deep relationships where we have built mutual trust together and we bring them shows, too, that we know they’ll like and, increasingly, they’re bringing us projects that they trust us to be able to produce better than anyone.”
When it comes to working with the very young streamer, which is struggling to add subscribers, Mumm says Vox Media Studios doesn’t have a great idea of how well “Land of the Giants” is doing in terms of viewership.
“We don’t, transparently. It’s sort of consistent with all the streamers,” Mumm said. “It’s not like there’s ratings in the same way that we can track. So no, we have no idea. The thing that matters most to me right now is that the network’s super happy with it, and our team is really proud of it. I was proud to be part of that launch marketing and that big push. Hopefully lots of people are watching it and loving it, and we’ll be excited to have it premiere on the linear network, as well.”
Moe says Vox Media Studios is keeping its internal strategy developing all content in-house and “working with networks to market it so that we can control that creative.”
“We are humble and we were certainly very humble when we started in this market,” Moe said. “So we had to be able to answer the question for networks, ‘Why work with us? Why Vox Media and why Vox Media Studios?’ And it was because we were bringing in new and unique, modern content that was uniquely suited to the streaming ecosystem. If we didn’t have all the capabilities to do it, to control the creative and respond and move the way we needed to, it was going to be less of a viable possibility. So we took our time. We developed all of the capabilities deliberately, to the point now where we’re premiering multiple shows each season. We have over a dozen shows in active production now — scripted, alternative, nonfiction, doc.”
Moe added: “We view ourselves as not just an entertainment arm of a publishing company, but an entertainment studio that is in direct competition and in league with the major players in Hollywood. That’s been our goal and with the explosive growth in our shows and our slate that we’re seeing now, we’re really seeing the fruits of that come together. It’s the perfect place in our lifetime to be building up the slate and scaling what we do across more and more brands, more content areas and more and more formats.”
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