Breaking News! How CNN cracked the code that led to a growth in 2020

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Updated: August 24, 2021 1:51 PM

CNN saw around 200 million unique users visiting its website each month and 450 million consuming the content on TV

CNN, CNN International, CNN International growth strategyOn television, CNN was rated number one in the key demographics aged between 25-54.

From an 88% growth in India in multiplatform unique visitors on digital platforms to a rise in engagement time on television, CNN International claims to have witnessed a high growth rate across platforms in 2020 when compared to the previous year. In a conversation with BrandWagon Online Rob Bradley, SVP, CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) and Ellana Lee, SVP and managing editor, Asia Pacific, CNN International and global head, features content, CNN International and CNN Digital talk about viewership and advertisers trends over the last one year. (Edited Excerpts)


What has been your core strategy for TV, digital and social media?

Ellana Lee: 2020 was a banner year for us. It was the perfect storm of great stories, whether it was the Trump story or the real tragic situation of covid-19 stories.  With this we not only  delivered good numbers, it reaffirmed our strategy that people will always flock to organisations they can trust. And last year was the year of crisis. There was a crisis in geopolitics in the United States. It was a crisis of health and it was a crisis in the way we live and how we are going to live. We saw viewership increasing across platforms- television, digital and social media. For us, the strategy that really came to the forefront in 2020 was pretty simple. We would send an alert through our social handles, viewers would then watch those events unfold on our television and our digital site and would remain with us on digital for further analysis. This is the way we broke stories. 


What is the growth CNN has seen in digital as well as on TV?

Ellana Lee: On the digital front we were the number one in total visits among international news brands in the competitive set based on Comscore data and saw an 88% year-on-year increase in India in multiplatform unique visitors. On television, CNN was rated number one in the key demographics aged between 25-54. We saw upto 200 million unique users coming to our site each month, and around 450 million consuming us on TV globally. Furthermore, we saw a surge in mobile consumption. While that’s a trend we’ve seen before specifically in India, it reaffirmed the transition of people going to mobile for further news consumption. 

However, internally in the newsroom, we look closely at the engagement numbers. Viewers are spending over two – three minutes on our digital platform, depending on the story. On television, from 2020, we have increased our time band for international news from 1.5 minutes to 5 -12 minutes and viewers are consuming the content. So, for us, the engagement time is more critical than the viewership numbers.


What are the strategies you adopted in the past one year for your advertisers?

Rob Bradley: In CNN, we marry the exclusivity of television with the data driven, insight driven, creative world of digital. We feel we’re in a unique position to offer business insights to our clients. In February 2020, we organised a covid taskforce that comprised people from research, data analysts from our tech teams as well as our creative teams. With this taskforce, we hosted with our clients webinars on varied topics such as return of travel to sustainability. We used the insights from the taskforce to help our clients. Our clients in India include IBM, Accenture, Kirloskar, among others.


How does the content differ from social media to the website to television?

Ellana Lee: We understood very early on that every platform has a different consumption pattern and expectation. We brought experts who would tell us what works on social media, digital, and television. We have gone through the process of learning how to program properly, how to procure the story, the best filming tactics, and how to edit it properly. Furthermore, we’re constantly evaluating our content with the producers, whether it’s digital, whether it’s for social media or for TV and evaluate the metrics. We then bring those lessons back into the newsroom and tweak our work to make sure that our coverage is appropriate for the platform.

For us, Breaking News does well across platforms, however, what we’re seeing is that audiences gravitate toward aspirational stories as they are looking for solutions instead of tragedy. We found audiences flocking to the aspirational stories and which is why we introduced a lot of new programmes that specifically targets those aspiration solutions driven stories.


What are the different types of expectations advertisers have when it comes to advertising on TV, digital and social media?

Rob Bradley: We essentially start at the beginning of what our client demands which is to reach the right audience, deliver a message and have an impact. We give our clients insights to choose the right platform. For this, we need a huge amount of data and technology underpinning all of our platforms, including TV and we’ve invested in some of that technology ourselves and it is proprietary now. The technology that we have ranges from data management platforms where we can segment audiences based on interest. Last year, we went a step further and built a brand safety and suitability tool SAM (Sentiment Analysis Moderator) that analyses sentiment but also understands whether a story has a positive connotation or negative connotation for brand associations. So by using this technology, not only we can segment on interest, but we can also segment stories based on whether it’s aspirational, or a negative story. 


What is your strategy when it comes to branded content?

Rob Bradley: Branded content is an important part of our business as it accounts for approximately 70% of our revenue now. To clarify, there is a clear divide between our branded content team and our sponsorship team. Branded content is a pure commercial message which uses CNN’s storytelling capability along with our data and insights to reach its targeted audience.

Read Also: Apurva Chandra assumes charge as secretary – Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

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