Already six weeks into the process, Greg D'Alba, executive vice president and COO of CNN Ad Sales, and his team still have miles to go before they wrap up their customized upfront presentations to advertising agencies.
Although tailored to client needs, they're delivering a basic message: CNN, when multiple platforms are tallied, has the widest reach among all broadcast and cable networks and has a package of more than 30 programming specials grouped under nine subject for sale during the 2009-10 season.
The news organization's pitch points to information from the Nielsen TV/Internet Fusion database indicating that in January 27.7 million watched CNN and/or went to CNN Digital Network online. Among that total were 18.2 million persons 25 to 54, the so-called news demo, 15.8 million adults 18 to 49 and 5.3 million persons 18 to 34. Further, within the 25-to-54 set, there were 7.7 million households with annual income exceeding $100,000.
"CNN's trust and credibility delivers an expansive audience that is very engaged in our diverse platforms," said D'Alba, who also noted that CNN had its best first quarter in total day among viewer and the news demo since 2003 and the Iraq War.
CNN said it continues to reach more viewers than Fox News Channel or MSNBC every month. In March, CNN topped the competition in cumulative total viewer audience with 70 million viewers, while Fox News was second with 62 million and MSNBC third with 55 million.
For its part, CNN sister service HLN posted a cumulative total viewer audience of 54 million last month and had its best quarter in its history in both total day (ahead 22%) and primetime (51% in total viewers and 64% in the demo).
Others in the market no doubt consider numbers that show Fox News Channel has resided atop the cable news sector for 87 consecutive months, and had more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined in primetime during the first quarter, when it finished second to USA Network overall in ad-supported cable. MSNBC, meanwhile, beat CNN in total viewers and the so-called news demo, adults 25 to 54, in primetime during the first quarter for the first time in its history.
Asked about the impact of MSNBC surpassing CNN in viewers and in the demo for the first time during the first quarter (Fox has ruled the cable news ratings roost for 87 months), D'Alba acknowledged that "TV ratings are important and we've certainly celebrated our share of wins over the past 18 months...But [MSNBC] is competing on a shorter playing field for any day, week or hour. We have a significant long-field playing advantage."
Taking a macro view, D'Alba said "it's about how you define winning. We have a tremendous reach advantage that touches more customers and gives our clients opportunities to sell more products."
D'Alba said that CNN has already put business on hold for some of its specials, which cover such topics as diversity, financial, cause-related, health, political, thought leaders, technology, environment and women. However, he said couldn't disclose the clients until the deals "go to order."
Among the returning franchises CNN is offering in the market: "Fit Nation," " Planet in Peril," "Black in America," "Impact Your World" and the third iteration of "CNN Heroes."
Looking at the economy, CNN, in the fourth quarter, will go multiplatform with a year-long feature, entitled "The Turnaround," following entrepreneurs as they revamp their small businesses to achieve success. On HLN, "Money Coach" will empower viewers to make smart decision, answering emails and video mails on how people can take control of their spending and saving habits.
Elsewhere, CNN will air documentaries under the Latino in America banner, examining the challenges surrounding language, education, health care, politics, religion, citizenship and identity for Hispanics.
On the political side, CNN will issue "National Report Cards" at the conclusion of the first, second and third 100 day milestones for President Obama. Starting in first quarter 2010, CNN will cover the new administration's referendum over the first two years in office, while also covering House, Senate and gubernatorial races across the country.
Overall, D'Alba said the news category in general and CNN in particular have proven to be "recession-resilient" thus far in 2009. "We don't know what will happen in the second half, but the first half has been strong."
D'Alba said consumer interest in the economy, politics and world events and the fact the genre is not time-shifted has made CNN attractive to clients in the multicultural, entertainment, energy, food, beverage, beer and auto after-market categories.
D'Alba, without specifying sell-through, volume or CPM goals, is "really encouraged" by CNN's upfront prospects.
Still, he said the service is "not dependent" on the ad sales flurry that takes place "over a two-week period." He called CNN "a solid, effective" vehicle for clients "throughout the year" and the network is comfortable as "more of the business moves closer to start date."
To that end, he now refers to what has been historically labeled "scatter" as the "opportunity market."
Last year, bolstered in part by record spending in the political arena, CNN and HLN combined to generate $556.3 million in advertising revenue, up 30.1% from $427.5 million in 2007, according to SNL Kagan estimates. That compared with $566.9 million for Fox News Channel, which registered a 23.5% gain from $459.2 million. For its part, MSNBC registered 27.5% growth to $172.7 million from $135.4