How CNN works with digital to become the ‘greatest news organization’ on the planet
How does a brand like CNN work with digital in a time when linear television becomes less and less important?
During the annual Swedish Media Days (Meg) conference (this year held in Gothenburg Apr. 7–8), Smashdig met with Andrew Morse, Executive Vice President of CNN US and General Manager of CNN Digital Worldwide.
You can listen to an edited audio version of this interview in the newly released Smashdig podcast embedded in this article. The interview starts at the 13:32 mark.
Adam Jönsson: You came here to talk about CNN’s digital strategy. But you started back in 1995 when you launched the first edition of CNN.com. How have things changed since then?
Andrew Morse: We’re living in an entirely different world. I was actually at ABC News in 1996 when we launched our first web site. But to see how organizations like CNN or ABC have evolved in the last 20 years is tremendous. We’re not just living in a web site world or a desktop world. We’re living in mobile world and a social world. It’s exciting.
AJ: CNN is very much brand known for linear television and being this traditional broadcaster. How do you work with digital today?
AM: We don’t consider ourselves to be a television organization any more. CNN is a multi-platform media organization and that’s a really important mindset shift. If you wake up every day and think of your organization in that way, which we do, then it becomes easier. Digital isn’t something we do for extra credit, it’s a really critical part of our business.
AJ: Can you take me through some of the platforms you are on today?
AM: One of the great advantages we have, is that when big organizations create new products they come to us. Oftentimes, we work very close with the developers to build out the new product experience.
AJ: Is it easier for you as you are this big, well-known brand to try out things and also get the companies like the Apples and Snapchats to come to you? That must be a great advantage?
AM: It helps. If you’re launching a new platform and you want people to engage with it, you need brands that people know and respect. I think, no matter whether you’re a television network or a mobile company or a social company it’s hard to envision launching a content platform without CNN.
AJ: Here in Sweden you signed deals with both Expressen and Aftonbladet not too long ago. Two traditional print organizations that have been very successful digitally. Why did you decided to work with them instead of a traditional broadcaster or a company even more focused on video?
AM: We have lots of different relationships with a lot of different companies and have had that over the years in Sweden. But both Aftonbladet and Expressen are terrific partners in that they see the same future as we do. They see the mobile as important, video as important and where digital isn’t an afterthought. And those are the kind of partners we want to have.
AJ: Who’s the winner of these deals? Some people see it as you being the winner as you get content from Sweden if anything happens here. Some see Aftonbladet and Expressen as the winners since they get access to some really cool stuff from CNN.
AM: I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game and we don’t enter into partnerships looking for a winner and a loser. We enter into a partnership because we believe there are benefits to both sides. And for CNN, there’s great benefit in being able to speak in a relevant, resonate way to audiences in the Nordics. We need to learn more about the region, we need to create content and make sure we’re tailoring our content the right way in the region.
AJ: How much do you know of the region? How much does CNN know about the Nordics?
AM: Not enough. And that’s part of why I’m here. It’s been a really interesting few days. The more time I’m able to spend with partners such as Aftonbladet and Expressen and the more time I’m able to spend at events like this, the better understanding we have of the marketplace and the trends and opportunities. We have a terrific team in London that covers the Nordics out of a commercial perspective and they have a tremendous understanding of the region, but honestly for CNN to be a truly global player given how quickly the world is changing, we need to understand all these regions even better. But again, that’s why we have partners here.
AJ: Are you open to more partners in Finland, Norway, Denmark or even more partners here in Sweden?
AM: Absolutely. We’re looking for great partners everywhere. It’s our mission to be world’s greatest news organization. It’s our mission to reach audiences on whatever device they might have all over the world. We know that people look for the quality and credibility of our brand. But in order for us to be the go-to source, to be really resonant, we need partners who have access to the right audiences and the right trends. We’re not naïve enough to think we can plant a flag and expect audiences to come to us. We need to pay our dues.
AJ: What’s next for CNN digital?
AM: We just made a really significant investment. We’re investing $20 million creating 200 new jobs, many of them outside of the United States, to focus on mobile, video and building out our global capability. That’s the strategy for us. Tactically, there are a lot of different things we’re doing within each of those buckets, from a dedicated mobile platform programming team to a dedicated data analytics team to more resources devoted to trying to figure out the right way to plan social platforms and new technology like virtual reality.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and length.ExpressenAftonbladetCNNMegAndrew MorseSmashdigs podcast