NEW DELHI, November 9
In 1980, at CNN's launch, Ted Turner ordered that the flag of the United Nations be flown along with the flags of the United States and his home-state, Georgia. It was a hint of his ambition that, one day, CNN, which then reached only 1.7 million of US households, would be the world's biggest network. Today, CNN reaches an estimated one billion people in 212 countries and territories around the world.
Savvy marketing, with an international audience in mind, is one reason why CNN was able to beat its rivals. For example, at Cable News Network, nobody uses the word "foreign." Instead, they use the word "International", which literally means "among nations." The practice originates from a 1990 memo written by Ted Turner, who felt the word foreign "implied something unfamiliar and created a perception of misunderstanding". Producers for each of CNN's news networks pick the reports they want for their shows from a "menu" of stories. The choice depends on who their audience is.
In tune with this strategy, the network has launched CNN indiadotcom and Style South Asia, which will debut on November 11. These will be the first locally produced programmes to air on CNN's recently launched South Asia Channel and the first shows to be commissioned by CNN in Asia.
The programmes will be produced locally by United Television (UTV), an Indian production company, and are of half hour length. indiadotcom will cover information technology, which is booming. Style South Asia, which will be hosted by the famous Indian dancer, Mallika Sarabhai, will portray India's varied heritage of lifestyle, art, architecture, food, fashion and personalities.
One of the key features of CNNs approach to an international audience is how it tries to familiarise CNN to them rather than the other way around. Says Rena Golden, executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International, "indiadotcom and Style South Asia are locally produced shows. Our first in Asia, they will be an exciting new addition to the prime-time programming line-up existing on CNN International's South Asia channel."
Golden, who gave shape to the network's ambitious "regionalisation" strategy, is an old hand at adapting CNN programmes to international audiences. In 1997, under her, CNN launched more than 40 hours of Europe-specific programming and 30 hours of Asia specific programming. As she puts it, "We are committed to offering news and information programming that is relevant to our viewers."
Internationalisation played a major role in CNN's success. So did doing the right thing at the right time. CNN went international at precisely the moment an international audience came into being. In 1985, CNN failed to take over the American company Channel Broadcasting Network (CBN), a move which would have vastly increased its American audience. But times were changing and the rapid growth of programme channels and channel capacity were creating a market for non-local news. And audiences across Asia were beginning to give up on state-run television.
CNN was one of the first to realise that there was money in going international. And for Turner, it was a relatively simple matter to combine the CNN and Headline News domestic signals and put them on an international satellite in 1985, thus creating CNN International.
The market potential was enormous. For example, in India, an estimated 30 million households subscribe to cable services, and according to studies by HSBC and BNP Peregrine, at least 46 million households will subscribe to cable and satellite services by the year 2005. CNN's new Indian and Asian strategy must be seen in this light.
CNN has already carved a dominant position in the Asian markets. According to the Asian Target Market Survey 2000, conducted by AC Nielsen, CNN had nearly double the viewers as its nearest competitors, the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) and the Cable News Broadcasting Corporation (CNBC). And among Internet users, 11 per cent had visited CNN.com, and only 4 per cent had gone to BBC World's web site, and only 3 per cent to CNBC's. The report also says that CNN International reaches 55 per cent of top management and 35 per cent of senior government officials even in tightly controlled societies in Asia and Africa.
CNN's India plans has been worked out on the basis of extensive research. And as people tend to like programmes that have been tailored to their culture, CNN's strategy might well succeed in the crowded Indian markets as well.
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