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News Networks Look For a Digital Lifeline

Much like the rest of the television landscape, the news industry has undergone a digital transformation in an attempt to court younger viewers who don’t rely on linear TV.

“The younger viewer is consuming the news so much differently than we all did growing up,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner Broadcasting ad sales.

To that end, the news divisions and cable news networks have, over the past year, pushed further into the digital realm, from MSNBC’s online video hub The Shift to ABC’s World News Tonight anchor David Muir helming daily newscasts on Facebook. And that has changed how marketers are being sold on buying news.

Increasingly, the networks’ sales divisions are trying to extend media buyers to all their extra screens, choosing to go with a Three Musketeers’ approach (all for one, one for all).

“Now, when you buy CNN, you’re going to get the viewer from the young end on the digital platforms all the way through the maturity of the viewer of what [we’re] used to seeing on the TV platforms,” said Speciale. “We really are talking about CNN the brand holistically on all screens.” Last year, Speciale oversaw the integration of the company’s TV and digital ad sales and marketing teams.

“We all kind of sit at the same table and go to a lot of the same meetings,” said JoAnn Ross, president of sales for CBS, noting that the sales divisions under CBS Corp., including CBS Interactive, work in tandem more these days. “We are very closely aligned and we approach our clients that way.”

Dave Morris, executive VP and chief revenue officer at CBS Interactive, argues that getting marketers to buy across digital and over-the-top platforms has been a several-years-long battle. “The buyers three or four years ago were not ready,” he said, noting that the biggest change has occurred over the past 24 months. “They didn’t have the digital part of their business ready to go.”

While ad execs are seeing buying on all platforms, more and more they are encouraging marketers to combine their TV and digital budgets, which is still a process. “It’s just the way the landscape of the agencies are structured right now,” said Speciale. “We have to cater to both sides.” Marty Daily, CBS senior VP and director of news and late-night sales, notes that financial services, health and pharmaceuticals are among the categories that are buying cross-platform. During a CBS This Morning segment last week on Voya Financial, the’s background color shifted from blue to orange—the main color in Voya’s logo.

Digital Fountain of Youth

As the viewing audience for linear TV news continues to age, more news networks have turned to digital offerings to recapture the younger demos. CNN and CBS last year made headlines with the launch of TV Everywhere services CNNgo and CBSN.

“What CNNgo is doing is basically capturing that younger viewer,” said Speciale. “We’re now seeing very distinct audience on CNNgo, which is very different than what we’re seeing on CNN linear.”

CNN was also among the first media brands to partner with Snapchat on its recently launched Discover platform, which houses a dedicated collection of videos, curated by CNN’s editorial teams.

CBSN, which works as a 24/7 digital news network, has had an auspicious start since its November premiere. In the first metrics released by CBS, CBS News was the top-ranked news channel on Roku following the launch, topping news outlets on the service in hours streamed for November and December.

While younger viewers have embraced these extra platforms, Ken Lagana, CBS Interactive senior VP of entertainment, sports and news, notes marketers are still reluctant to buy across these extra screens on a large scale. “We need the money to follow the consumption habits of consumers,” Lagana said. “That’s not happening at scale just yet.” And chief among those reasons is the lack of viewer measurement from Nielsen.

“I think there clearly is room for improvement,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said during parent Comcast’s quarterly earnings call Feb. 24. “That is not going to last forever.” While Burke was referring to the TV industry as a whole, it’s clear the lack of measurement has put a damper on media buyers’ digital appetite for news.

“These are technologically advanced people in connected TV homes, yet the advertisers aren’t there yet,” said CBS Interactive’s Morris. “They are not buying in volume because of the Nielsen challenge.”