Superbrands case studies: CNN

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume IV', May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation.


While the five established terrestrial players continue to dominate the UK broadcasting market, the 100 plus channels now available by cable, satellite and digital terrestrial continue to fragment the marketplace in a dramatic change of the broadcasting landscape that is being mirrored throughout the developed world.

At the same time, the opportunities afforded by the move from analogue to digital for even more channels and the ongoing competition for carriage in a limited cable universe, coupled with the proliferation of online services offering PC-based alternatives to television viewing, has seen broadcasters rush to provide branded services across as many of the new platforms as possible.

This explosion in viewer choice has also seen an accompanying debate about whether the broadcasting industry is sacrificing quality for quantity.

In the year that CNN marks 20 years since it first created the concept of 24-hour rolling news, the UK has seen ITN enter the 24-hour news business with the launch of the ITN News Channel alongside other UK players Sky News and BBC News 24.

On the pan-European front, there are five players: CNN, BBC World, Euronews, and business news services CNBC and Bloomberg.

More than ever, this has resulted in an increased need for strong marketing and branding so that channels can stand out from the competition with a clearly defined communications strategy to enable them to reach their target audience.


When CNN launched in 1980 it was a single US network available to 1.7m homes. Twenty years later the brand comprises 14 television networks, 15 websites, two radio networks and a mobile phone news service, and is available to 1bn people worldwide.

Since it first launched, CNN has become synonymous around the globe with breaking news that is fast, accurate and impartial. Since the first story about a shooting in Indiana, the network has become a visual history book for the world, providing images from as wide a canvas as the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, the Gulf War, Tiananmen Square, the Bosnian War, the Hong Kong handover, and the turn of the millennium.

In CNN's early years it offered a comprehensive, highly acclaimed American news service. In recent years, it has evolved to offer those same core brand values for regional audiences around the world. In 1997, CNN launched a regionalisation strategy and CNN International now comprises five separately scheduled networks for Europe/Africa/Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Latin-America, South Asia and the US, as well as a number of local-language joint venture television and online services.

CNN's pioneering approach to news broadcasting and its commitment to speed, integrity and credibility has earned it recognition from partners and competitors alike.

As the CNN brand enters the 21st century, it is continuing to evolve to meet the needs of today's news consumers -- not only through the traditional media of television and radio, but also through new media such as the internet and mobile telephony.


CNN first went on air on 1 June 1980, the brain-child of media entrepreneur Ted Turner, and the first round-the-clock news channel.

The fledgling cable channel, initially dismissed by sceptics as the Chicken Noodle Network, is now one of the world's most recognised brands.

It is a commonly held misconception that it was with its ground-breaking coverage of the Gulf War that CNN's reputation of being first on the scene began. In fact, five years earlier CNN was the only network to provide live television coverage of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. This was followed by a string of events in which CNN attained critical acclaim for providing live coverage of issues of global concern: Tiananmen Square, the Bosnian War, the Olympic Park bombing, the OJ Simpson trial, the Hong Kong handover, the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the bombing of the American embassies in Africa, the tragic earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan and the turn of the millennium. With this track record, CNN has established itself as the news channel of choice for world leaders, captains of industry and even its media peers, as well as millions of viewers worldwide.

In 1985, Ted Turner launched CNN International and beamed his news network into homes and hotels around the globe. The 24-hour network then became a defining part of the burgeoning cable and satellite industry in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia, proving that CNN was an international channel that happened to be based in America - not an American channel that just happened to broadcast internationally. CNN International is now available in more than 151m households worldwide, 230m including its US distribution.

CNN continues to lead the way in broadcasting and in 1997 introduced a strategy of 'regionalisation'. The biggest change was the introduction of five separately scheduled international CNN networks enabling the European and Asian channels to produce and broadcast programming targeted to their specific regions. This has meant more 'regionalised' feature programming, offering audiences a tailored and relevant service.

Internationally, London, Berlin and Hong Kong are now major production centres with nearly 50 hours of programming a week produced from Europe and 30 hours a week from Asia. Additional staff and newsgathering bureaux in major cities enable CNN International to broadcast more than 90% of its programmes exclusively for international viewers.


With the resources of its worldwide network of 39 bureaux and 850 broadcast affiliates, CNN is committed to providing objective, accurate and relevant coverage of the most compelling stories for its viewers worldwide.

There is no substitute for first-hand reporting and CNN International continues to strive for the highest level of access and presence in all parts of the world. While many news organisations reduce their bureau operations, CNN continues to expand, with new bureaux in 2000 in Islamabad and Belgrade, and there are still more countries on the list.

While the network's commitment to breaking news remains its trademark, CNN's range of regionalised programming means it is not purely a network to turn to when there is a major breaking story. With news programmes on style, business, arts, the environment, technology, travel and music, this is an evolving network that tailors its programming for its audience. Over 90% of the output is now generated specifically for an international audience and the network has come a long way from its early days as a pure American export.

CNN London, CNN's largest bureau outside of the US, is a prime resource of output for the European feed. It currently produces three hours of live morning news and financial programming, and two live daytime shows as well as evening news broadcasts.

In autumn 2000, CNN opened a new digital state-of-the-art production centre in Hong Kong, CNN's first fully integrated television and internet newsroom.

CNN news is also available online at the award-winning and on mobile telephony services through CNN Mobile.

Recent developments

CNN's regional strategy continues apace through local-language joint venture partnerships both in television and online to make CNN content available to as many audiences as possible worldwide.

The years 1999/2000 saw the launch of television services CNN Turk and CNN+ in Spain, and a European edition of, Europe, as well as local language websites CNNItalia, in Japan and in Germany, with more in the pipeline. These join existing local language websites,, CNN Sverige, CNN Norge, and CNN Danmark.

CNN continues to aggressively pursue new media opportunities, including broadband and interactive television platforms, to fulfil its position as the pre-eminent provider of news content. The CNN brand values of fast, accurate news are now available in more than thirteen languages around the world and CNN is well placed to maximise its presence across all platforms as the digital age unfolds.


The CNN logo is one of the world's most instantly recognised brands. CNN's core message of being the world's news leader has remained unchanged over the years, and the logo has retained its consistent look since launch.

In January of 1999, CNN unveiled a series of new 'timelapse' on-air idents for its international networks. Shot on 35mm film to provide a cinematic quality, these included a diverse range of country landmarks from around Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa to give the brand a contemporary personality that would connect both geographically and emotionally with CNN viewers in 212 countries around the globe.

The brand was broken down into the following categories: the network trailers -- with the CNN logo animated over a series of energetic backgrounds to convey the energy and technology of the network; the global identities -- time-lapsed images to convey that the CNN brand is truly worldwide; the current ongoing introduction of regional identities -- same time-lapsed concept, only with a more intimate feel by showing the faces up close and personal of specific people in their regions; and the house brand -- the animation that runs prior to individual programming, using images, textures, colours and music that relate to the feel, content and time of day that the different programmes air, from the relatively light context of a travel show to the more serious tone of a current affairs discussion show.

The trailers for CNN programming have also incorporated the new logo treatments to provide a more elegant feel to the network identity without corrupting the logo itself. In October 1997, CNN London opened its first Creative Services unit, allowing for the bulk of the European network's promos to be made for Europe from Europe. The unit also supplies off-air support for the channel, through sales tapes and marketing show reels.

Brand values

CNN continues to stand by the values of accuracy, impartiality, integrity, credibility and speed. Despite the increase in competition, it remains the breaking news service against which others continue to be measured. It also stands for entrepreneurialism and ubiquity -- CNN is the global village broadcaster.

Things you didn't know

  • CNN Chairman and CEO Tom Johnson lent Mikhail Gorbachev his pen to sign the papers officially dissolving the Soviet Union.

  • Actor James Earl Jones celebrates 20 years of being the voice that announces: 'This is CNN.'

  • CNN's worldwide audience of nearly 1bn on the night that the Gulf War began in 1991 was the largest for a non-sporting event in television history.

  • CNN International's distribution outside the US has grown 1,700% in less than 10 years - from 8.5m to 151m.

  • To project CNN network signals to satellites 23,600 miles above the Earth requires 300-400 watts of energy -- half that of the average microwave oven.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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