We want to use the power of TV to drive digital, says CNN's Sunita Rajan

Sunita Rajan, Senior vice-president, advertising sales, CNN International (Asia Pacific)
Where does CNN stand in India currently?

India is a tier one market for us in Asia (after Australia). It brings in 15 per cent of our Asia revenues which in turn is one-third of CNN International’s revenues. We are in 50 per cent of the (183 million) TV households in India. We have seen a huge spurt in digital audiences. CNN.com has close to 2.4 million unique users a month, over 15 million page views a month and the video engagements are very high. Globally, Japan is our biggest market after the US across streams of revenue. 

We divide countries/markets outside the US into three types. One, brand-driven markets where companies are still looking to establish brand image, so TV is very important. Two, data-driven markets where everything is about laser sharp targeting and where digital has surpassed TV, like the UK. Three, hybrid markets, many of which are in Asia. India is one of them where TV plus digital rules. The business narrative for India is a standalone. Anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 per cent (in GDP growth) is good for analysts and investors. So, there is an opportunity for a global brand such as CNN for shaping the narrative. Also, 2019 will be an important moment. So, before that the various strands and slices of the India story not covered so far will form part of India Now on TV, digital and social. (India Now is a show on CNN.com and on TV that tells various stories from India in the build up to the 2019 general elections)

How has digital changed your approach to markets?

In the last four years, we clearly set a roadmap and vision as a pan-regional, truly multi-platform brand. We want to use the power of TV to drive digital and use data in digital to support TV. And we want to increase our global digital business to $1 billion by 2020. (CNN is currently at about a $1 billion in revenues overall globally). For example, our business in India — for a long time, we focussed on export-oriented businesses as advertisers, they were our mainstay. So it was the tourism industry, state tourism boards, Kirloskar, Sulzon, IT companies targeting the US. But four years ago we doubled down on digital and realised that the audience was coming from India. So while our key advertisers remain our mainstay, we have added verticals on health, lifestyle. There is CNN Style which focuses on art, architecture, lifestyle — India is a big contributor to this vertical.

How does advertiser behaviour change with the medium?

These are exciting times. Many things are converging — disruption in viewing habits, content and data. This has created an apprehension (within marketers) on how exactly to interact and work with media and content companies. So, the discussion starts off being very much consultative, by identifying challenges, areas requiring clarity, answering questions on return on investment. We have a multi-platform portfolio. So, if I (as an advertiser) want an association with sports or innovation or technology, the conversation could move there. More than 75 per cent of our business (revenues) is multi-platform (combined sales).

Speaking of multi-platform, how do you tackle the whole TV plus online metrics issue? 

Our discussions with brand marketers are beyond reach and scale now, these are hygiene factors. What they are asking for is accountability from us. What CNN’s audiences watch, how much they consume. 

What we give is, here is your brand, these are the data points and these are the deliverables we can guarantee, especially on viewability, which is a huge issue. We are investing in tools that guarantee that. If inventory is traded in an automated environment, we will provide it programmatically through our own trading desk. About 15-20 per cent of our inventory is sold programmatically — the rest is branded content or premium content. We have Crux, a data management tool that slices audiences into clusters. There is Launchpad (launched in 2016 in the US and in 2017 internationally) which helps us use insights gained from social media. We launched CNN Reach a month and a half ago. So, if a marketer is looking for an audience cluster outside of CNN on, say, The Guardian and Financial Times, we can buy it for them. So, the conversation is very much on offering media solutions.