CNN International will be hoping to benefit from the “Barack Bounce” when it launches on Freeview. The global news channel launches on the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform tomorrow (Thursday) ahead of US President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration next week. But it faces a tough challenge from existing Freeview news outlets including BBC and Sky, among other satellite and online competitors.
Broadcasting on Freeview, which is in more than 16 million homes, more than doubles CNN International’s UK reach. From Thursday, CNN International’s English language services will reach more than 215 million households in more than 200 countries and territories; 160 million of those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa alone.
CNN’s Freeview launch will be supported by marketing activity, including a co-branded advertising campaign with Freeview, according to CNN International senior vice-president of advertising sales Max Raven. CNN will air in the 9pm to 1am slot vacated by Nuts TV, which was axed by Turner Broadcasting late last year (MW October 29), although sources suggest these hours could eventually be extended.
As well as covering Obama’s first months as president, Turner Broadcasting is hoping there will be an increased consumer appetite for CNN “at a time when international awareness and understanding of the global news environment has never been so critical”.
Raven says/ “CNN is an international outfit that appeals to a high-end market, but it hasn’t in the past had access to those below that market because they were less interested in international news. But there has been an internationalisation of news interest over the past months.”
International news appetite
He points to the US election, which led to “huge spikes” on CNN International’s internet site. The sliding global economy and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai late last year had a similar effect.
Yet few believe CNN can make real in-roads in the UK market, despite an all-important Freeview presence, because of the dominance of both BBC News and Sky News, which next month celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Media commentator Adrian Monck, a professor of journalism at City University, says that although CNN International has a “very good market reputation” among a certain type of viewer it has little in terms of perception beyond that. “Without marketing money to promote it, CNN will struggle to make any impact. It is not a sufficiently different product to the BBC or Sky News, both of which have very good US content.”
He suggests that a service such as Al Jazeera English is able to differentiate itself and its agenda better, but has struggled with distribution difficulties.
Beating the BBC
Even BSkyB has struggled to overcome the BBC’s dominance in UK news. When BBC News launched on Freeview as BBC News 24 in October 2002, it lagged behind Sky’s lead, but by April 2006 the channels were level pegging. Average 2008 viewing figures for BBC News are 31,000 and for Sky News 10,000, but both channels regularly register spikes in excess of 4 million viewers during major news events.
One executive says that BBC’s dominance is helped by its “huge” cross-promotional advantage, “such as its urging of viewers to switch over at the end of a BBC1 bulletin or BBC Breakfast for more coverage”. Yet such an advantage did not help ITV, which in 2006 pulled its lower-rating ITV News service in favour of bolstering its entertainment brands.
CNN, which is not rated by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) is adamant that the Freeview move is not about catching Sky or BBC, but boosting the cross-platform CNN brand. Raven says: “This is a massive confidence boost to us,” adding that the sales teams are increasing across the region.
He says that being available through Freeview gives the CNN brand “even more” visibility to the viewers, advertisers and their agencies it hopes to capture, as well as being a likely boost to its rapidly rising online and mobile audiences. “We expect good strong audience growth,” adds Raven.