Emotional Response to Election Night Coverage Reaches "Super Bowl" Level - Greg D'Alba

By Greg D'Alba Thought Leaders Archives

'Every four years, CNN has the opportunity to shine at what we do best: showcasing our political team and multi-screen capabilities through our best-in-class presidential election coverage. Election night – ripe with anticipation of surges and surprises - is our Super Bowl. According to Nielsen, 84 million people turned to CNN on TV, online, mobile and out-of-home that evening. In addition to election coverage, CNN's programming team wants to make all high-profile coverage the best possible experience for our viewers who are not only watching at home, but are streaming content on their hand-held devices and seeking additional content online or through our CNN apps. And from a sales perspective, we want to share the benefits of our multi-screen reach with our advertising partners.

At Turner Broadcasting, we're fortunate to have access to the innovative Time Warner MediaLab. This past election night, the CNN Ad Sales Research team joined with our partner, Innerscope Research to host an audience of more than 60 viewers and measured their biometric responses while watching CNN election coverage live. Taking full advantage of this high-profile event we wanted to garner all the insight possible to better understand our audience and how they interact with our content and the ads within our election coverage. Our advertising partners leverage CNN during the election season to deliver unique branding messages, unveiling their most important creative and branding campaigns during this specific time frame of heightened interest, so it's important for CNN Ad Sales to maximize the experience and share with our partners insights gained.

The study compared two different viewing experiences: one group viewed 1.5 hours of live CNN election coverage in the theatre at the MediaLab. They had iPads and were encouraged to use the CNN iPad app while watching the TV coverage. The second group was in a similar screening room and watched the same live CNN coverage, but without the iPad accompaniment. Both groups were biometrically monitored to measure moment-to-moment emotional engagement. Thus we set out to compare engagement levels of a mix of Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters having a two-screen experience versus those on a single screen.

What we found was very encouraging. Among the findings for election night:

  • When respondents coupled CNN TV viewing with CNN iPad app usage, TV ads shown during CNN's Election Night coverage experienced a 30% lift in engagement.
  • According to Innerscope's database, levels of engagement with CNN Election Night coverage were similar to engagement with Super Bowl content.
  • Levels of heightened engagement extend to TV ads.
    • Within the two-screen experience, engagement levels during the TV ads were stronger than 90% of the ads in Innerscope's database, on par with how Super Bowl ads perform.

According to the results, overall viewer engagement for CNN election coverage was very high, adding another measurable dimension to the high ratings and record-breaking online traffic garnered. And that level of high engagement extended to the television ads; biometric engagement levels during the television ads were on par with the biometric engagement of Super Bowl ads. I began this piece stating that the election was like our Super Bowl, and that is true in more ways than one.

We have a strong understanding of our unique audience and how they consume our brand and news across a variety of platforms, and we're leveraging that to the advantage our advertisers. All of our core election sponsors are integrated across screens and platforms, and because we're the #1 cable news net who generated the most online chatter about the presidential debates and election, our advertising partners reap the benefits of our strong digital presence. Additional biometrics research from a past Innerscope study found that social sharing is a powerful driver of engagement. In fact, advertising surrounding CNN news content that had been recommended by a friend (via social networking) is five times more effective than when it is adjacent to non-recommended content.

So, now that we have culled all of these valuable insights, how do we make them actionable? We're using information, like these biometric results from Innerscope, to inform our content strategy across programming and sales. We are beginning to activate more integration across all screens to form a deeper connection with the consumer. CNN was the first US News organization to stream our full CNN and HLN networks online and on Apple devices in real-time, including commercials. And during the presidential debates, CNN offered unrestricted access to the network's programming through CNN.com and via CNN's apps for iPhone and iPad. Our advertising partners have more opportunities now, with many more on the horizon, to surround content and interact with consumers in a much more circular experience. Segments like Help Desk; Eatocracy; and 100 Places to Eat Like a Local are good examples of how we're implementing insights to create a complete content experience, using online content to fuel on-air segments, and more.

We now know that engagement for television ads in a two-screen environment is higher than linear only. We're using data from this study and others to continue innovating, making those insights actionable in ways that provide our advertising partners with added value and a deeper knowledge into the effectiveness of their multi-screen media buys.

Greg D’Alba is president, CNN News Networks & Turner Digital Ad Sales and Marketing. In this capacity, he oversees all domestic ad sales, marketing strategies and business operations for the CNN portfolio of networks (CNN/U.S., HLN, CNN en Español and CNN Airport Network) and Turner’s expansive digital portfolio of news, entertainment, sports and animation properties, including CNN.com, NBA.com, Bleacher Report, Funny Or Die, NCAA.com, adultswim.com and others. D’Alba is also responsible for the entirety of Turner’s direct response business. Greg can be reached at greg.d'alba@turner.com.

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