CNN Seeks to Level Peaks and Valleys

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The cable news networks, which are getting a ratings boost from presidential politics, still will have to sell ads after the election’s been decided.
At CNN, that means packaging shows and multimedia features to minimize the boom-bust dynamic.
“In any post-election year, you’ve always seen a dropoff in news,” said Greg D’Alba, chief operating officer for ad sales at CNN. After this election cycle, he hopes it will be different.
The key to Mr. D’Alba’s strategy is 40 “programming platforms” that he will be selling to advertisers during the upfront, which for cable news networks kicks off next month and tends to run through September. The platforms consist of content on specific subjects that consumers can watch on cable or access on the Internet, via broadband or on mobile devices.
CNN has pulled in new viewers during the election, closing the prime-time audience gap it has with Fox News, the No. 1 cable news network. During last week’s Pennsylvania primary, CNN’s campaign coverage drew more viewers than Fox’s.
Translating those ratings gains into revenue is the challenge for CNN, with analysts predicting Fox News will bolster sales more than its competitor does this year.
CNN has been broadening its advertiser base by adding special programming and features in areas such as health and fitness, designed to attract different targeted audiences. Making the features part of a multiplatform package also makes them attractive to marketers.
“Advertisers are very receptive to at least hearing and seeing the offerings that networks, whether they be news networks or entertainment networks, are bringing in multiplatform,” said Harry Keeshan, director of broadcast at media buyer PHD.
Mr. Keeshan said he couldn’t say whether such packages could help CNN balance out its election-year revenue.
CNN has built up the number of platforms it offers from five or six just five years ago, Mr. D’Alba said. “Five years ago, 25% of our business was fully integrated,” he said. “Today over 80% of our business is integrated because these big programming platforms take our content from the living room to the hand-held every day.”
At the same time, where once CNN attached a single sponsor to a platform, by making them multimedia, it is able to sell them to multiple sponsors.
One of the packages CNN pitched in last year’s upfront was its election platform. Nine sponsors paid about $5 million each to participate.
CNN is currently in the market seeking three to five sponsors for a package called “First 100 Days,” which will analyze the next president’s initial months in the White House. The brand will be used on both daily coverage and special programming through April 2009.
CNN is continuing to sell existing platforms including “CNN Heroes,” “Planet in Peril,” “Impact Your World,” “Black in America” and “Women’s Global Health Initiative.”
Most of the time, when an advertiser sponsors one of the platforms, it also buys commercials in CNN’s regular news programming as well, Mr. D’Alba said.
CNN also will be looking for advertisers for its prime time hour, hosted by Campbell Brown, launched since last year’s upfront, and a new show with Fareed Zakaria on international news that will air on both the U.S. CNN channel and CNN International.
Election news has boosted viewership of the news networks. In the first quarter, Fox News Channel’s full-day audience rose 11% to 952,000 total viewers, CNN’s increased 27% to 632,000 and MSNBC’s gained 21% to 397,000. In prime time, Fox News rose 13%, CNN jumped 64% and MSNBC gained 57%. CNN’s campaign coverage beat Fox News during last week’s Pennsylvania coverage.
Research firm SNL Kagan projects that CNN will have gross ad revenue of $545.1 million in 2008, up 7% from last year. The network trails Fox News Channel, which is expected to generate $648.5 million from ad sales in 2008, up 19%.
A spokeswoman for Fox News declined to comment.
Mr. D’Alba said CNN’s digital-media platforms will help it avoid the usual post-election slump.
“Our new users are becoming viewers,” he said. “This built-in promotional mechanism we have, with new news consumers attached to our brand on the digital platform, is going to continue to provide us with growth.”
There promises to be no shortage of news in 2009.
“We have an economy issue and we’ve got a security issue and we have a global issue with this war,” Mr. D’Alba said. “A new president doesn’t mean the issues go away. In fact, I think next year is going to be even more compelling as far as the storytelling and the content that we’re going to be capable of delivering.”


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