The World: CNN celebrates 25 years of breaking the news

The news network reports record advertising revenue, but its audience growth is beginning to slow.

When CNN introduced the world to breaking news in June 1980, Margaret Thatcher was at Number 10, Ronnie Reagan was roaming the White House and a wall divided Berlin. Since then, the network has reported some seismic shifts on the world stage to an ever-expanding audience.

It's now available in 260 million households and spans a range of media, including the internet and mobile phones. Not bad for a network that originally broadcast to 1.7 million Americans and was ridiculed at launch.

CNN changed the face of news broadcasting. So much so that it's now impossible to imagine life without news on tap. Today, there are 70 rolling news channels and information is disseminated at dizzying speed. Meanwhile, websites and blogs have become forums for relentless discussion of world affairs.

Yet CNN's ability to stay relevant to its audience has kept it as agile as a lycra-clad Jane Fonda. Chris Cramer, the managing director of CNN International, reflects: "Our viewers are global citizens who are time-poor but information-hungry and they don't rely on TV. That's why having CNN content on every platform is key to future success."

Traditionally regarded as the network advertisers use to reach business travellers in hotel rooms, CNN's reach now extends beyond that white dressing-gowned cliche. Viewing in the home has risen and Kevin Razvi, the executive vice-president of CNN International advertising sales, describes the audience as "geographically and platform agnostic". They're not short of a few quid either, which is one reason why advertisers still use the network, despite the plethora of alternatives. Todd Gordon, the senior vice-president and managing partner of MediaCom in New York, states: "In clients' minds, CNN is the gold standard of news."

Jason Hayford, the international investment manager at Starcom Worldwide, agrees: "If you want a high net worth individual, they're still the biggest kid on the block." He adds: "They've been top of the pile for a while; their Gulf War I coverage stole a march on everyone."

Cramer, a former head of news-gathering at the BBC, recalls: "The first Gulf War put us on the inter-national map." Cramer also reveals how the role of a CNN reporter has changed: "September 11 and the tsunami showed how tone and sensitivity have become as important as facts. It's not just about what you report, but how you report it."

This tact has been key to CNN's international growth. When a US news network ventures into new territory, it could find itself batting off accusations of imperialism. Yet Mark Patterson, the chief executive of MindShare in North Asia, respects it for its commitment to local coverage.

"CNN is spending a lot of time on Asian editorial and, ideally, there will be CNN China within the next 25 years," he says.

Yet Hayford thinks that the company's US ownership - it's part of the Time Warner portfolio - can work against it: "As an American broadcaster, it is inherently US-centric and is being sucked into being more gung-ho in its home market because of stiff competition from Fox News."

The unabashedly right-wing Fox News is CNN's chief rival for ratings in the US. Its opinionated presenters are hugely popular and have prompted US news networks to do some soul-searching. Despite this, Razvi insists that impartiality remains crucial for CNN: "We've built our brand on editorial integrity and a lack of agenda and that's going to hold us in good stead for the next 25 years."

Although the recent EMS survey reports record ad revenues for CNN over the past year, there are signs of cause for concern at the network. Competition from Fox in the US and CNBC in Europe is growing. CNN's audience growth is slowing, while CNBC's rose by 37 per cent in Europe last year.

CNN has successfully extended its brand beyond news in recent years.

Gordon says its ventures into branded content in the US - a property show and a programme about running a small business - have been well received.

And CNN will need to develop more of these kinds of activities. "The financial expense of reporting the news across the entire world is enormous," he says. "News networks are now required to justify their existence and make money and that's a huge challenge," he says.

Over the past 25 years, CNN has morphed from a wide-eyed news-hound into an established authority.

Over the next 25, it will battle for viewers and advertisers in an ever-fragmenting media market. Yet for many, CNN's attempts to report impartially continue to give it kudos.


1980: Airs in the US</Paragraph[xyz]1982: Japan and Australia receive CNN

1985: CNN International launches

1989: Live coverage from Tiananmen Square

1991: Live reports from Baghdad attract one billion viewers

1995: goes live

1997: CNN en Espanol launches

1998: generates 34.2 million page impressions when it publishes

The Starr Report

1999: CNN Mobile unveiled

2001: Time Warner merges with AOL

2002: Breaks the story of the Al Qaeda video training library uncovered

in Afghanistan

2003: Reports from Iraq

2004: Yasser Arafat's funeral broadcast uninterrupted

2005: Pope John Paul II's funeral becomes the network's largest-ever

global live event

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