How CNN Digital is betting on accuracy and long form journalism

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May 05, 2020 10:14 AM

The platform plans to add podcast to its lineup of content, as well as monetise it

Brett McKeehan, Director of Asia, CNN Digital Worldwide Brett McKeehan, Director of Asia, CNN Digital Worldwide

Owned by Turner Broadcasting System, a division of AT&T – CNN claims that its website currently generates over 50% of its traffic directly and hence is not dependent on any third party data. And this where the future resides, the digital platform believes. Much of the traffic is also because of the consumer trust it has claimed to have built over the years. In a conversation with BrandWagon Online, Brett McKeehan, Director of Asia, CNN Digital Worldwide talks about how CNN.com has been able to carve its own niche. (Edited excerpts)

Largely a broadcast brand – how CNN looks at the digital play?

At CNN, there is a different kind of shift taking place, from broadcast to something that is very much digital. I think whatever consumption that we have now with digital will only get better every day. Case in point being India where you have 450 million people connected to the Internet, and there will be another 800 million more in the next decade, give or take a couple of million. These are the people who are connected, educated, willing to consume content on their phone and I think every new media organisation on the planet needs to understand that that consumption will only increase as time goes on. In India, half of the population – 650 million approximately- is 25 or older and their consumption patterns are going to define media for the next decade and that’s where all media organisations have to focus.

News aggregator apps and short format news apps have gained popularity amongst the younger generation. What kind of scope mainstream digital news platforms have?

Short, sharp journalism is interesting and on Twitter, you can learn a lot just by reading short, sharp vignettes but it is difficult to monetise. As for content, there is an absolute future for long form journalism. If a reader wants to learn more about a subject and not just get knowledge in bold, then they need to dive deeper and they need to commit to a brand. That’s where the opportunity resides for publishers like us. Players like us need to focus on engaging, long form features. That’s what I’m trying to do at CNN APAC. I want us to get better with the original local distinctive content, hence, we’re doubling down.

What’s the USP that you believe traditional players have over news start-ups?

The problem with short, sharp vignettes and a lot of content is that perhaps it doesn’t have the depth, the perspective and the insight. At CNN, we have a very, very vigorous fact checking unit source classification system, verification system, among others, as we want the stories to be correct. But we don’t want to just offer the news, we want to offer insights around the news. We want to offer information that we believe people need to know to be able to make their own opinions.

How do you beat the clock on Google when it comes to appearing on ‘search’?

I believe we should always be accurate rather than being first because trust is more important than a quick win. We publish hundreds of stories every day and there are very few instances in which we have to amend something or correct something. In those situations, we’re really transparent about the two. This has actually helped us a lot because people are very familiar with CNN as a trustworthy and transparent news source and our numbers have gone up year after year in the digital space. We are continuing to grow because in a world full of misinformation and uninformed perspectives, people want someone they can trust.

Can you cite examples of using data to turn the coverage on digital?

Yes, that has happened. For instance, there has been an intense market appetite for coronavirus and so we shifted users and resources quite early to absolutely focus on the pandemic and to look at it from all angles. India loves Coronavirus. They’ve been absolutely avidly consuming our coronavirus coverage. Also, India comes to us during major breaking news events such as cyclones. We had two-three big cyclones last year and so we were really quick to switch our live news into a live blog format and we found that audiences really came to us for that. So, it’s about picking the story and then looking at it for all angles to cover all the different geographies that we have.

How do you plan content in markets which are ripe with undercurrents?

There’s not a one size fits all approach. At present, Hong Kong still has a free press, as soon as there are developments on that front, then we can step back and reassess. But at the moment, we are still publishing what we want. China and India are very different markets as the former is open, uses global technology, global companies, hence making it a prime focus for consumption of CNN content. Unlike India, China does not have the English speaking capability. Primarily, we want to cover the China story for the world. We’re not covering China’s story for China. On the other hand, we’re covering India for the world, but we’re also trying to combat India for India by giving different perspectives. That’s the key difference.

What are the plans in terms of adding new features/content?

We are big fans of cross platform execution and CNN is no slouch in the video department.We are one of the biggest video publishers, rolling out half a billion videos a month. Going forward, we are thinking out podcasts. Podcasts now have a huge market and can be monetised.

Read Also: Coronavirus Impact: How kids content has provided respite as viewership surge on TV and OTT platforms

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