Digital is a major growth driver for us in India: Sunita Rajan, Senior Vice President, advertising sales, CNN, APAC

In conversation with Sunita Rajan, Senior Vice President, advertising sales, CNN, APAC

e4m by Apeksha Mishra
Updated: Aug 16, 2018 8:56 AM

Think for a moment about where you get your news first. Though television’s popularity might be debatable today, TV news continues to be a big deal.

Global news brand CNN believes in delivering a good story-telling narrative, which is sought after by brands and users alike. Sunita Rajan, Senior Vice President, Advertising & Sales, CNN, is responsible for driving APAC advertising revenue for the organisation.

In an interview with exchange4media, Rajan, an industry veteran for over 25 years, reveals how the global news brand has evolved its digital consumer engagement model. 

Read the excerpts of the interaction below:

There is a huge shift in traffic from broadcasting news media to online news media. With the transition to digital journalism, do you think internet will soon be the future of news vs TV?

I think it’s a misnomer. TV can never be dead, not just in this market but globally as well. The audio visual medium does have a very strong connection, be it emotional or visual. Consumer habits have gradually evolved with technology, but the consumption of news is very much in the hands of the audience. As an international news brand, CNN has always been focused on breaking news. And when a big story breaks, people normally tend to turn to television. Be it a 7-inch screen or a 52-inch screen, for a brand, the most important thing is to offer a seamless consumer experience and to make sure that news is delivered in a timely manner. What matters is how one follows the same quality and values of journalism, and not the size of the screen one is looking at.

With online viewership soaring, will digital replace TV in due course of time?

Video is a huge area for growth when it comes to content consumption. While print, digital or website remain popular, video definitely catches one’s attention. Good quality video accompanied by original story telling will always find a viewer. Many of these new platforms are offering a lot of creativity and talent in several sections which is presenting the market with a lot of options.

There’s a happy co-existence of users enjoying cinematic experience, single TV viewers and those consuming video content online, especially the youth. This market is on a growth trajectory which is quite unprecedented. But when it comes to content, it is very much about authentic original content of premium quality which alone will thrive.

CNN being an international brand, how different is the media coverage of American market when compared to the Indian market. How does the difference impact India?

CNN is a world-wide market leader and is watched by most on a daily basis. With respect to the Indian market as a microcosm of what is happening in the international arena, news is the connective tissue which brings global stories to local economies and consumers. The US election story took centre-stage back then, and it didn’t matter where one was located.

Today, in the globally connected world that we live in, the Indian economy is placed in a very favourable position on the global stage. Policies laid down by the US government there does impact the daily lives of consumers in India. CNN’s story telling narrative makes foreign content relevant and resonate in the local market context in India. We cover major stories from India, be it news or feature programmes. But when it comes to the global news agenda, there isn’t a brand truly global as CNN.

With our Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu launching digital initiatives for ease of export, Indian content is increasingly being exported. With the growing demand for our content, how does CNN contribute in regulating a digital economy efficiently?

‘Choice’ is always difficult to regulate. Once you open up the market enabling consumers to engage with content, the floodgates open up, and curtailing it then becomes worrisome. We are living in a world where media and content have exploded and the consumer has the ability to make a choice. Our commercial model with digital is either an ad-funded video-based model or it is a subscriber-based model. We do work with cable and affiliate partners and we are also involved in content licensing, but essentially we are a news service available either through cable TV network or on digital.

While everyone seems to be leveraging technology, have marketers lost out on creativity and innovation?

I believe marketers haven’t lost out on creativity. The business necessity is to focus on RoI, which is forcing marketers to target audiences in a sharper fashion. Today it is all about reaching out to your users and making media buying and planning efficient.

We at CNN believe in creativity and focus on good authentic story telling, which is sought-after by brands. Our social video story telling network termed ‘Great Big Story’ narrates the real stories behind each of the iconic places. Our videos carry a surprise element in each story, be it of human interest, origins, food, tradition or travel. India is our third largest market for GBS, catering majorly to the millennial audience. As a brand, we creatively control the narration of stories, shaping of our videos in order to guarantee a 30-second viewer completion when we monetise our commercial partnerships.

Today we are also combining content with the audience story which is mainly about insights and platforms. We serve in the medium of TV, digital, mobile, social and our consumers can cherry pick what they are looking at. We even help brands narrate their stories and their association with us. We execute this through our in-house agency called Create where we focus on video and web video production, producing content for social, data targeting, audience acquisition and consumer insights. Create has an international presence for which we work with the commercial teams to foster brand partnerships. We live in a world where technology enables us to have conversations and interaction to stay globally connected.

How is CNN using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality with content to engage more with users?

In the news business, letting your online audience experience that moment of truth; helping them be a part of our story narration is of paramount importance. We engage in 360-degree videos to give consumers a deeper insight into our stories. We have had partnerships with Google Daydream and Samsung for VR headgears. When we relaunched our news app, we included 360 videos which then showcased a huge impact on our consumer experience. Our strategic focus in digital is very much on videos, mobile and social.

Can you elaborate on the Dos and Don'ts of being in the advertising business for a firm?

The advertising business in today has changed a lot. We have come from an era of a linear business to a multi-platform audience that one caters to. A brand needs to evolve constantly with time. From a customer relationship angle, one needs to be the best in class with integrity and professionalism towards your users. Trust is the brand value that anyone stands for. Our business is very much about maintaining relationships, human connection and understanding your users by listening to them. We are privileged to have a high percentage of user retention and renewal of clients.

How has CNN's growth trajectory been so far in Asia Pacific. Could you name a few promotional ideas which resulted in high advertising revenue for CNN's global platform?

We have transformed our business, largely driven by a changing media industry and changing market needs. CNN has invested in understanding its customers, technology, data, and creating tools and products for users to be able to apprehend this dynamic landscape. In India, our growth has very much come from the digital platform. Three years ago, we introduced ‘premium business sites’ to our news users where we doubled down on content from business, style, design and health categories. CNN Money, Style and Travel are our premium destinations that provide our users with both premium content and experience.

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