The 60-second interview: Katrina Cukaj, CNN Worldwide executive V.P. of Ad Sales
CAPITAL: From your perspective, how does the television news marketplace look right now?
CUKAJ: It has been interesting. The backend of 2013, there was some slowness there-there wasn’t much going on in the news cycle, so we were definitely feeling it a little bit, and that carried over to January, though from a revenue standpoint we definitely were holding out ok; we have been tracking ok, and I think we have benefitted from some of the bigger stories that have happened out there, and the marketplace has been pretty good. What really picked it up for us was the upfront event, and some of the excitement in terms of some of the new stuff we are doing--the programming, the CNNX conversationsthe fact that we are picking up sales for CNN Money on June 1. I think it has piqued up some interest from clients, so getting up from a tougher latter part of 2013, and a slow start to 2014, I’d say March through second quarter, it has been pretty good. We are hoping that momentum takes us through the broadcast upfront, which obviously is important to us. We are thinking that momentum is going to carry us through, and that some of the programming that [CNN president] Jeff [Zucker] has introduced, will help us tap into some other areas we have never tapped into before, and advertisers that we didn't get a ton of money from, but are now looking to spend more in different categories.
CAPITAL: Is it different to sell series like Mike Rowe’s series or Anthony Bourdain’s series, or films, than it is selling other sorts of newscasts?
CUKAJ: It is different, but I will tell you how we position it: There are so many incredible headlines out there, and it is a different sort of storytelling, and I think you probably got that from Jeff’s presentation [at the upfront]. We do storytelling on a newscast very differently than we do storytelling in an original series. I think the opportunity for us is to engage with our viewers and our advertisers in unique storytelling ways, so I think Jeff used the example of the way Anderson Cooper covers Libya is going to be a little bit different than the way an Anthony Bourdain covers Libya, and that is the positioning we are using in the marketplace. Some of the topics are being ripped from the headlines, and we have new storytellers now, through these production companies that we are working with in the longform, to get more engaged, deeper into what some of those headline stories were, and “Chicagoland” was a perfect example of that. The three key pillars for us is the original reporting, the original series and films, and with all of our digital distribution, basically taking and driving that scale and reach across the board.
CAPITAL: There’s CNNx, which Jeff Zucker unveiled at the upfront, and we know CNN is taking over CNN Money on June 1, do you think there are opportunities there that maybe you didn't have before?
CUKAJ: Our network folks can attest to this, but sales has been very interested in financial content, and we have had financial content on the network, but taking on CNN Money is an opportunity for us to take a site and really create more financial video and more financial content on-air engineered or even pushed forward by the help of CNNMoney.com. We are excited about it, June 1, if not prior, you might start seeing, what we are doing on the network is rebranding financial content as CNNMoney, we have a show on the weekend that will be branded CNNMoney, and then what we have done is worked really closely with the CNNMoney editorial folks to build out franchises that we can go out and sell, so we see it as a huge opportunity to crack into in a bigger way the financial categories, but we are not just going to stick with financial-it will be business, tech, luxury and that just gives us more and different content to sell, and the benefit that we have versus what CNNMoney.com was in the past is this monster news television that can fuel content back and forth to the site, and a big differentiator for us versus the marketplace.
CAPITAL: Can you give us a sense of what you are seeing in the marketplace from clients? What do they want when they talk to you about trying to get their brands out there?
CUKAJ: Ideas. They really want big, bold ideas. I have had plenty of clients that have said to me, “Come in and talk to me about the idea first.” I had a meeting yesterday with a longtime client, and that one-hour meeting turned into a three-hour meeting about brainstorming around their platform. They want ideas, they want promotion, and they want creative ways to integrate their messaging. For us we obviously need to do it in the most appropriate way, and then they want those extensions beyond just the television 30 second spot, or that banner or video clip online. So that means events and promotion and marketing. What is the social pushing we can do for them? I would say ideas are one of the key factors.
CAPITAL: From an ad sales perspective, who do you view as CNN’s competition? Jeff Zucker has been public about saying they want to try and compete with your Discovery channels, your Travel Channels. Are you seeing the same thing on the ad sales side?
CUKAJ: I think that obviously our cable news partners are our competition, our broadcast early morning and evening news dayparts are our competition, and then I would say that the broader entertainment cable world is our competition and I think that Jeff has given us an opportunity to play in that bucket bigger than we ever have before. Not general entertainment networks, but cable entertainment networks looking to provide content that is more thought-leadership-like. There is no one that can provide more thought leadership content, or more content in that key influencer area than CNN can.