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CNN in fierce competition for lucrative, emerging Middle Eastern Markets

CNN fends off its competitors in foreign markets

Zach Coleman Staff Writer

CNN is no longer the only channel on the dial for all-news television. Globally, its dominant position is being contested by BBC World and a host of regional and national networks, such as MSNBC.

To keep the eyes of the world on CNN, the Atlanta-based news group is rolling out new programs for global audiences and narrowing its focus on individual regions. It now has its first 24-hour channel in another language and is broadcasting in a third language on a trial basis.

"Audiences around the world now have significant choice," said Chris Cramer, managing editor and newly promoted executive vice president of CNN International. "We've got a fantastic amount of competition, particularly in Europe, but we're a market leader. They're all trying to get their hands on our revenues because almost none are making money."

The CNN News Group, now owned by Time Warner Co., had an operating profit of $250 million on revenues of $800 million last year. Its profitable CNN International channel reaches 107 million homes in 207 countries as well as 7 million U.S. homes.

BBC World, which is 10 years younger, reaches 50 million homes in 174 countries. Strangely, it isn't yet available in Britain, but plans call for entering the United States in 1998. BBC World expects to turn a profit in two to three years.

Before Cramer joined CNN International from the BBC last year, 60 percent of CNN International's programming came from the flagship CNN domestic channel. Today, 80 percent of CNN International's programming is self-produced.

New programs include "Insight," a half-hour, single-subject current affairs program, and "Q&A With Riz Khan," a half-hour call-in show.

Targeting audiences

In June, CNN International separated its broadcast into four regional signals, or feeds -- Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Each region is developing its own programming and aligning its schedule to local time zones.

The first new programs are "Asian Edition," a 15-minute prime-time review of top regional stories, and "Asia This Day," an exclusive, half-hour morning roundup of leading regional and world stories.

The first of two hours of new European programs will start next month. Latin America will have new programs by February. This fall, Europe and Africa will see their own versions of "Inside Asia," a weekly, half-hour news magazine show.

By next summer, Asia, Europe and Latin America each will have two to five hours of exclusive programs, Cramer said. "The logic of regionalization is you get closer to the audience."

CNN International next month will yield four of its 10 hours a day to its financial-news sibling, CNNfn, on their shared U.S. feed; last month it gained its first hour of time on the main CNN signal.

`It's not cheap'

CNN International will spend at least $3 million on regionalization each year for the next five years. The network is building new regional control centers within its Atlanta headquarters and improving its production centers in London and Hong Kong. About 36 jobs have been created.

"It's not cheap," said Cramer. "It's a pretty ringing endorsement from Turner [Broadcasting System Inc.] and Time Warner."

CNN went full-time bilingual in March with the launch of CNN en Espa–ol. The Spanish-language network now reaches 5 million homes in every Latin American country and 314,000 homes in the United States. It expects to be in 9 million homes by year end. Rival CBS TeleNoticias is in about 9 million homes in Latin America and Spain. About two-thirds of CNN en Espa–ol's news is gathered exclusively for that network, said News Director Chris Crommett.

CNN took a first step into another language in June with CNN Deutschland, a 15-minute, prime-time roundup of top national and regional stories, which started showing on CNN International in one German state.

CNN and Time Warner own just under 50 percent of channel ntv, a 24-hour news network in Germany.

Tom Johnson, CEO of the CNN News Group, said this spring that ntv has lost money for more than five years but could turn a profit next year. He said more channels like CNN en Espa–ol may be on the way, mentioning Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, Russian and Chinese as possible new languages.

CNN pulled out of a Russian joint venture before it launched and talked inconclusively about a venture with three members of the Saudi royal family, he said.

The BBC's experiences in China and the Arab world gave Johnson pause. The BBC's Saudi partner pulled the plug on their joint-venture Arabic channel last year after it aired a critical documentary and stories on a dissident. The BBC lost distribution in China in 1994 after similarly angering its rulers.

Source:Atlanta Business Chronical: CNN fends off its competitors in foreign markets

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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