'India is among CNN's top 3 markets in Asia Pacific' : CNN International VP ad sales news William Hsu

CNN is banking on India to boost its ad revenue this year as the international news outfit hunts for fast-growing economies in a downturn environment.

CNN expects a 10 per cent growth from the Asia Pacific region. India, away from recession, will grow the fastest this year as the news network plans to tap into more clients. .The target is to keep posting 20 per cent growth over the next couple of years as Indian companies go global.

The recession has affected CNN the least as it tweaked its strategy. The news network built a 360 degree solution around TV and the Internet. The focus on digital, which makes up 20 per cent of CNN‘s revenues, also helped CNN to combat the global downturn.

CNN is growing its India content. Eye On India is ready for launch and CNN is dedicating a lot of its daily news output towards Indian business, which will be aired across the world.

In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, CNN International VP ad sales news William Hsu talks about how the global news network has insulated itself from recession and how it plans to grow its business in India.


Which are the key markets for CNN and how has the Asia Pacific region been faring for the global news network?

CNN has grown in the region and 30 per cent of its revenue is coming from the Asia Pacific region, up from 25 per cent three years back.

The top three markets are Korea, Southeast Asia and India. Over the past decade, CNN has been growing at about 11 per cent compounded a year.

The recession has affected us the least. We had a good digital product; and we deal with government entities - whether it is investment or tourism. Governments actually spend more money during a recession to stimulate growth.

So what targets have been set for the year?

We expect 10 per cent growth from the Asia Pacific region. India will grow the fastest this year in terms of revenue and getting in more clients. We expect 20 per cent growth from India over the next couple of years, up from 17 per cent.

North Asia‘s contribution in terms of Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong will still be the most.

CNN International has seen profit growth for the past seven quarters. What factors have contributed towards this?

We have a strong distribution revenue stream. This insulates us in terms of a recession. Another driver has been new media. Internet advertising has grown quite a lot.

One of the biggest opportunities is our CNN branded portfolio. You might think of us as a TV channel; I think of CNN as being a news provider. We have a TV channel. And we have the largest news site in the world. We have just launched a series of mobile products starting with the iphone, ipad and Android 3.0 in the US. There is an opportunity to build the 360 degree solution. The challenge is how fast advertisers will embrace this.

But did you have to tweak your strategy during the downturn?

One of the things we did was that we anticipated the recession before it happened. Throughout 2007, we expected something to happen without knowing when. This allowed us to tweak our strategy. We approached more governments. We built up a 360 degree solution around TV and the Internet.

How has CNN been able to broad base its revenue stream as it is key for any broadcaster to survive in a difficult global economy?

From a product base, I just mentioned three of them - and they are all growing. Internet and mobile are experiencing fast growth, which is good. Incidentally, new media contributes 20 per cent of CNN‘s revenues.

The Asia Pacific region accounts for 30 per cent of CNN’s revenues, up from 25 per cent three years back. CNN expects to post a 10 per cent growth from the region, with India growing the fastest

Does that give you an advantage in India?

In terms of an advertiser base, we are focusing on Asian companies that are expanding internationally. Suzlon is an example. We are also looking to work with Just Dial which has just launched in the US. Essar is another company that is expanding its global footprint. We are tapping a wave of Indian companies that are going overseas.

Even global clients are increasingly preferring local news channels. Does this pose a challenge to CNN?

No! We deal with corporate branding; our clients are high end corporates.

If you look at the type of advertising on news channels here, I don‘t think that a company like Rolex would want to advertise in that environment. The quality is dodgy. A Rolex watch will cost as much as a car here. Would they be in an exclusive group with CNN International or would they rather be with the mass targeted brands?

There is a certain purity that CNN International offers. My TG is that top three per cent of India‘s population. They are internationally focused; they are very well traveled; they do business overseas frequently. I tell clients that this is my profile. Which channel do you think this TG is watching in India?

News channels in India are struggling as the ad pie is not growing against the backdrop of Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) and sports. How do you see things shaping up here?

I don‘t look at the general news channels as competitors. The market is totally saturated; there should be consolidation. In any case, sport is the most attractive genre on cable TV anywhere in the world.

Our focus rests on international advertising. I bring a platform to an Indian company which is looking to promote itself overseas. We have around 20 Indian advertisers with us. And we aim to grow this.

Have the ad categories grown for CNN over the last couple of years beyond just tourism?

Travel covers airlines and hotels, but we have gone much beyond that. We have clients like Rolex, Nokia and Longines. We have quite a few companies from the Middle East. Banks also advertise on CNN.

Our USP is that we are pervasive. We are on Internet devices, television homes and hotels. Many news channels may have a strong distribution. But how many of them also have a strong website? How many can rank No. 1 on ipad downloads? We are in a good position.

So you approach advertisers across platforms?

Yes! One of the benefits is that it allows an advertiser to constantly engage with the consumer. In the morning, the consumers drive to office. In the office, they use the Internet. During the tea break, they use their mobile phones. Then when they go back home and watch us on TV. We follow the consumers everywhere.

Could you give me examples of integrated solutions?

Cartier advertises with us on the net and the TV. They were the first advertisers on the ipad.

What work has CNN done online?

We have invested in social media. For any story, you have five different social media links which you can send to a friend. You can also follow a report on Twitter. We push citizen journalism through i-report. This has been integrated into television news.

A great example of that is Iran. The student protests happened six months ago. The government sealed all access to Iran for journalists. What we did was have citizens do filming and reporting for us.

On a platform basis, we invest heavily on the mobile. We have CNN mobile Web which allows you to surf a mobile version of CNN. Then we have iphone, ipad apps and Android. That is where our consumers are digitally. The itunes interface is its own marketing platform.

What is the strategy in terms of lifestyle content?

A typical news consumption pattern is that you watch half an hour to an hour of news and then you are done for the day. The lifestyle content is designed to keep you watching for up to an extra hour by having content that is designed for an international businessperson. He/she would be interested in Golf, sport, design. I categorise this as news and information.

Eco Solutions, which is about environment, has done well. CNN Go is a travel lifestyle programme sponsored by Korean Airlines. We, in fact, have diversified our news programmes. We have a show called Backstory in the morning. What we have found out is that people do not only want news headlines; they want to understand what is happening behind the scenes.

On I-report we have found a way to take content that people send and create a news show around it. It is a different way of portraying the news. This is not just feature programmes.

How did the idea of CNNGo come about?

One thing that is common about upscale business people is that they are well traveled. They have a desire to know unique things about countries. Travel is one of the most interesting things for them. This is what CNN Go is about. It offers you insights on things to see, do and buy. There isn‘t a travel programme quite like it. There is a site as well that is quirky and interesting.

The site is about six countries being featured including India. On television, one country and a different city is featured every month. Online, we have Citibank as a sponsor. For television, it is Korean Airlines.

How are you growing your India content?

Eye On India is coming up and we are promoting it. We are dedicating a lot of our daily news output towards Indian business, which will be aired across the world. We have, for instance, filmed the Birla Group.
What role has Eye on India played to boost your perception here?

It does generate a lot of interest. We are promoting it through the press. We are using outdoor hoardings - we have a big presence in the international Airports of Mumbai and Delhi. We are also using social media.
Al Jazeera is looking at India with content focused here. Your views on this in terms of the impact it will have on the existing global players?

We welcome competition; it keeps us on our toes. They have a good product, which is undeniable. But we are the No. 1 news network across the region. We aim to keep it that way.
You recently announced sponsorship of the ISPS Handa Senior World Championship. How many events does CN sponsor and what role does it play in building brand awareness?

Sports content is popular on CNN. We have Living Golf. Sports is an important platform. We sponsor five to 10 events a year.
Organisations trimmed costs in the global recessionary environment. What did CNN do?

We did not have any salary freeze and we did not layoff anybody. Being a part of Time Warner, we are always cost conscious. During the downturn, we actually invested more in our newsgathering operations. We boosted our staff and added more bureaus.

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