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What the future of media looks like for CNN without Great Big Story


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

December 8, 2020 | 5 min read

Robert Bradley, the new head of Asia Pacific at CNN International Commercial explains to The Drum why the closure of millennial-focused media company Great Big Story (GBS) was a difficult decision to make and what the future of media now looks like for CNN.

The AT&T-owned news broadcaster announced in September it was closing GBS, a platform that is used to create documentary-style video content aimed at millennials on social media channels around the main pillars of Human Condition, Frontiers, Planet Earth, Flavors, and Origins.

Bradley, who took over from Sunita Rajan, who left for Bloomberg, says while CNN was proud of GBS, the challenge it had was to really focus on its core and key strategic opportunities, especially during a challenging time like the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If you look at just within GBS and the clients we were working with there, a lot of them we pivoted to CNN solutions. CNN tells stories on many levels. Yes, there's news at the core but obviously, as you know there's CNN travel, there's CNN style, there's CNN business, there are continued investments in non-news content that essentially allow us to be incredibly creative and authentic outside of news,” he explains.

“Those areas enable us essentially to go after these different industry sectors and so on. The types of stories that brands want to reach are going back to what audiences want to see. Whether it is Great Big Story or CNN, it comes back to trust, it comes back to authenticity, it comes back to people.”

He adds: “We always tend to put people and humans at the heart of what we do. We do know that people led stories, stories that trigger some sort of emotion perform better. We know audiences that would like to have some sort of emotional connection and reaction.”

Aside from taking on the APAC portfolio, Bradley has also been appointed the joint-head of CNN’s international advertising sales business to help global brands and advertisers have access to CNN and the broader WarnerMedia portfolio. In addition, he also oversees CNN’s digital commercial strategy, commercial product, data development, ad operations and ad technology.

He points out that without GBS, there are still media properties like anime platform Crunchyroll, the kids-centric Cartoon Network and sports through the WarnerMedia sports portfolio which includes Bleacher Report and NBA in the US.

There has also been a push into esports in recent years through the formation of ELeague.

“We have a team that also sits under me called Warner One that is a portfolio solution. That team essentially works with the CNN team to define audiences and target them across the portfolio,” explains Bradley.

“My role before was global in its nature because I'd been running the digital commercial strategy in all markets. When I look at the APAC region, it is obvious how every country is incredibly different with how they think, how they trade, their goals of how they are coming out of Covid-19 at different stages.”

He continues: “The different brands that we work with whether it is trade investment from governments in certain markets or whether its global car brands or technologies out of Singapore or brands like DBS who have partnered with us. It is about trying to understand all those nuances. Like all good managers and leaders, I believe there is a listen and learn point.”

Bradley, who plans to move to Singapore or Hong Kong from London once travel restrictions are lifted, says his immediate priorities is doubling down on CNN’s audience-first strategy by making sure they create content that is going to resonate with its audience by marrying technology and data. He believes the authenticity and quality of future content should be like the premium content that Warner has on any of its platforms.

“As we are owned by AT&T, technically we work for a telco even though we work at CNN. That means we can supercharge the marrying of that technology with content directly to consumers.

Specifically, he nods to the upcoming 5G technology impact, saying that it'll create a revolution for content because the speed is so much faster than what we experience now.

“We can then think about the democratisation of artificial intelligence, data and the rise of 5G. With all of this, there will be a content revolution. 5G is not just the technology, there will be a content revolution, not just in terms of download speeds. Yes, it is going to be great to be able to get a movie on your phone in a couple of minutes but think of an environment such as driverless cars.”

He adds: “If you are not driving, then there is time to consume content. Now, we are sitting in a car with clunky Wifi and you cannot stream a video well. If you think about the way that we can personalize off the back of that for unique experiences through data, through understanding trends of what individuals are interested in, the possibilities are endless.”

With CNN being in a prime position to understand these trends, the future of media may well see this democratisation of AI, data and 5G coming to fruition.

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