There’s plenty to talk about in the world of AT&T Inc.
For one, the last legal hurdles have finally been cleared to allow the giant to move forward with its merger with Time Warner. Warner Media’s CEO, John Stankey, formerly an AT&T exec, has been leading the reorganization of the two companies as they finally find themselves on the same team. His current mission? Improving digital operations at CNN.
Stankey’s revamped CNN inner workings will look familiar to advertisers, since they’re modeled on search best practices, but the ability to target audiences more tightly are where the similarities between the news outlet and Google and Facebook end. CNN has no goals for going social or gaining in paid search engine results.
The CNN of Tomorrow
CNN saw a big audience boom during the 2016 presidential election cycle like many other news outlets, but it has been slipping relative to the competition, namely FOX News and MSNBC, during prime time since then. The most recent quarter showed that CNN only held the attention of about a million people during prime time. This isn’t what Stankey is interested in, though. His eyes are clearly fixed on CNN Digital, with goals like improving the app and better targeting of content to the people who really want to consume it based on their interests.
This could come about through a marriage of CNN Digital and AT&T’s advertising and analytics division, Xandr. Instead of just offering space for advertisers during prime time, he intends for those slots to be targeted at the audience they want to be able to see specific marketing messages.
CNN Digital execs have asked Stankey for more investment in data science, product development and technology, The Wall Street Journal reports. It would seem that this ask, plus the hiring of new Chief Technology Office Robyn Peterson, are now in the greater plan for the news outlet.
CNN Is No Small Fish
All of this talk of growing CNN’s digital domain makes it sound like a small fish swimming in a big cable news pond, but the truth is that it was already a significant power before being acquired. With about 120 million average monthly unique views during 2018, according to Comscore, the traffic is there. It just wasn’t doing all it could with what it had.
For example, CNN Digital finally shut down Beme, its video-sharing app, and is scaling back investment in CNN MoneyStream, a curated feed filled with new business stories. CNN has even put subscription plans for popular verticals like CNN Business and CNN Politics on hold for now.
Despite all of this, CNN profit totaled $1.2 billion in 2018, its best year to date. The television side is still maintaining that third place position in prime-time viewership, but is second in total-day numbers this year, up 10 percent year over year.
Stankey Drops Some Goals on CNN
Along with naming former NBC Entertainment Chair Robert Greenblatt as the chairman of Warner Media’s Entertainment division, where he’ll oversee HBO and Turner channels TNT, TBS and truTV, plus helping to develop a new subscription service to rival Disney+, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker was named as chairman of Warner Media News & Sports, under which CNN falls.
Along with widening CNN Digital’s 30 million person lead in average monthly unique viewers over Fox News and The New York Times Online, Stankey announced that his plans for CNN include improving content so that mobile users will want to spend at least 10 minutes daily interacting with the cable network’s family of news apps.
And Finally, A Streaming Sell-Off
Buying isn’t the only thing that AT&T is doing. Along with its massive investment in people, content and media outlets, it’s letting a few things go, like Hulu.
AT&T still owns a 10 percent share in the streaming service that still seems to be lagging behind its competition in more ways than one. Disney is picking up the pieces, it would seem. When Disney acquired part of Fox last year, it also collected 30 percent of Hulu’s shares, which it added it its own 30 percent.
AT&T is in talks to sell off those Hulu shares, which would give Disney a full 70 percent majority ownership in Hulu, for better or worse. AT&T’s stake in Hulu is estimated to be worth about $930 million.