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'Asia contributes 25-28 per cent of our ad revenues out of which 10 per cent comes from India' : Jonathan Davies - CNN International exceutive VP ad sales

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 As the television landscape in India gets more fragmented, channels try to come up with customised solutions for clients by trying to understand their business requirements better. Such is the case with CNN International.

CNN says that more revenue is coming out of India, particularly with local companies going global. The tie up with IBN has also been a big help in this regard.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with CNN International executive VP ad sales Jonathan Davies to find out more about the international news network's prospects in India.

Excerpts:

How has CNN International fared over the last couple of years?

We have fared strongly. In the last five years, we have recorded double digit growth. There aren't many channels operating in mature markets that have seen this kind of growth level.

There are three key drivers for us. Our digital businesses have grown rapidly. The website has been able to monetise eyeballs; we are also seeing growth in developing markets like in Asia, Africa and Middle East; the area of sponsored content has also grown in terms of collaborative partnerships.

In terms of CNN's overall ad pie how much do Asia and India contribute?

About 25-28 per cent of our revenue comes from Asia, out of which India contributes 10 per cent. This has seen a huge growth over the last five years. India used to contribute two per cent of the revenue from Asia.

In the Asian market, CNN International is seeing quick growth in Japan and Korea.

How has the tie-up with IBN helped CNN in India?

It increases the profile of the CNN brand among the Indian advertisers. The IBN deal was not designed to be a huge revenue earner but to establish brand saliency. Advertisers in India have become more familiar and comfortable with CNN as a result of our alliance with IBN.

As more Indian companies want to be present on the world stage, they require a global platform to reach out. We can provide the global platform. Already you have a situation where the Tatas have bought out Jaguar and Land Rover. The more this happens, the more CNN will benefit in the coming years.

Besides manufacturing and consulting, Indian companies in sectors like BPOs are moving up the value chain globally. We are looking to tap these sectors.

Which are the key advertiser categories for India?

Tourism is one of the key categories. We are also looking to tap conglomerates like ABG. Airlines are also important as they are looking to go global. However, India is still an under-developed market for us. But through the CNN IBN tie up, we are laying the foundations for a market that will take off in the coming years.

India will follow a similar pattern like the Gulf States. Over the five years Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain have seen huge growth in terms of clients.

Apart from travel and tourism, which are the categories that are emerging in Asia?

The financial segment, consumer electronics and airlines like Singapore Airlines are growing.

'India is still an under-developed market for us, but through the CNN IBN tie up we are laying the foundations for a market'

The Indian market is getting more fragmented with a plethora of launches in the news space and other genres. How has this impacted CNN?

Fragmentation works in our favour. With the marketplace getting more confusing, clients tend to go to those places that they know and trust - like CNN. Our levels of churn have gone down. Rolex has been with us for 11 years. Cathay Pacific has been with us for 15 years. We also add new clients in different parts of the world, which is encouraging for the future. Trust is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity for brands. I am not just talking about news channels here. It also applies to governments and the financial sector, among others.

Besides the 'Eye On India' initiative, is CNN International looking at more local Indian content that would allow you to attract more advertisers in the sub-continent?

It is not necessarily that we will do only those stories that gets revenue for us. We highly place value on interesting stories. India is an interesting country. We have invested in more newsgathering resources in India. We have got people in Chennai. Now that we have more people in India we can generate more stories from this country.

Currently we are doing an Eye On initiative. This will focus on in-depth stories from India. Investment companies will tie up with us for this initiative.

One major initiative from CNN International was the launch of the Task Group late last year. What was its purpose?

The travel and tourism sector is important for us. The aim is to offer expertise to any client in that industry. We give them the tools and ammunition to make their campaigns more effective. We work in a consultancy role so that a travel board can explain to their state about why they are taking marketing steps. They can explain that an ad showing beaches will create economic growth. We help film commercials for tourism organisations.

We have worked with the Indian ministry of tourism. We helped them expand their business and offerings in other regions. In the latter part of 2006, we had in an initiative to promote India around the world in association with India's ministry of tourism, produced a series of six advertorials.

The vignettes aired for several months. We look at a country and understand the dynamics of their business. We then help them market it better.

From a brand building perspective how important was CNN's eco-tourism event in India in December?

The environment has been the key theme in CNN programming for many years. Countries wanted to know more about eco tourism and it's potential. Our event helped educate state tourism ministers on what eco tourism is all about.

Horizons 2007 was organised in conjunction with ministry of tourism. We got local and international experts offering their views. Next year we will be doing an initiative around the infrastructure business, which is related to tourism. The event will also be held in India.

Could you shed light on innovations done with clients that go beyond the 30-second ad spot?

With Nokia we did an initiative that spanned different platforms. Phones of our journalists had a Nokia widget, which could be tracked on our site as they traveled across the world. Journalists submitted blogs from their locations. This was a marrying of technology with our editorial interests. We have worked with Suzlon to embed their brand in our environmental solutions content. The perception and understanding of this company has gone up as a result.

We have a show called Principal Voices, which is sponsored by Shell. It looks at developmental issues around the world. We bring experts whether it is education or environment or in other areas from around the world to have a debate.

How has CNN changed in regards to perception among clients?

If you go back to a little over a decade, people felt that CNN offered an American view of the world. Research shows that perception about CNN has changed. It is now seen as a channel that offers a global perspective. We offer programming from around the world. While our CNN US network is a strong resource, we use it only when relevant like the US Elections. Clients see that global issues like credit crunch and food crises are tackled in an objective manner with multiple perspectives, which attracts viewers.

Is CNN packaged with the other Turner channels or is it sold separately?

No, we work with our sister channels in other areas but not in advertising. That is because the CNN audience is very different from the audience of the other Turner channels. The news audience tends to be more upscale. Other Turner channels get clients who are more mass market focussed.

Does CNN do roadshows, events for clients?

Yes, we do. However we try to make it more client-specific as opposed to exposing them to the whole world of CNN. We are introspective. We look at our business offerings and see how clients can benefit from being associated with us. We try to show people what we can do as opposed to telling them about our capabilities.
 

We did an initiative with the Clinton global Initiative a few years back. We did a film on this and invited clients to watch CNN in action and see the kind of people that the CNN brand can bring together. Clients met Bill Clinton, which was a good endorsement for CNN.

Now social media sites like Youtube and Facebook are competing with traditional media for eyeballs and ad revenue. How is CNN adapting to this?

We launched ireport.com earlier this year. It is a separately managed organisation, which allows any viewer from around the world to upload video programming. This is a viewer-moderated initiative. They can discuss key issues. The best ones that are done by citizen journalists are put on CNN.

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