Exclusive: Clear Channel Outdoor challenges CNN in airport TV

NEW YORK Tue Sep 4, 2012 8:10am EDT

A traveller walks to his flight at Ronald Reagan National Airport as the sun rises in Washington, September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

A traveller walks to his flight at Ronald Reagan National Airport as the sun rises in Washington, September 24, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - CNN, which has suffered from lower ratings and increased competition in the cable television market, is now facing a new challenge in an area it has dominated for two decades: airports.

Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is unveiling a new TV product that will hang in airport gates and display news, sports and other programs, aiming to compete with Time Warner Inc's CNN for viewers waiting for flights around the country.

Clear Channel Outdoor, the second-largest outdoor advertising company behind JC Decaux, has signed 100 content deals for the new service dubbed "ClearVision," including with major TV networks such as Fox, CBS and NBC, company executives told Reuters.

Toby Sturek, Clear Channel's head of airports, said the company is in discussions with about 20 airports including some large ones where CNN has its TVs, though the first airport ClearVision will enter in November is Raleigh-Durham International in North Carolina, where CNN does not have a presence.

"The airports want something that's different and they want something where they can have a variety of content that they can provide the passengers," Sturek said.

Sturek said Clear Channel previously had agreements to sell advertising with CNN in a handful of airports in the United States, and that advertisers did not see the value in CNN's offering.

In response, a CNN spokeswoman said that its airport network has been "a valued brand for over 21 years" and a "reliable source of current news programming and localized custom content for busy, on-the-go travelers."

CNN's screens can be seen in 49 of the busiest U.S. airports, including Chicago O'Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth. CNN said it reaches 248 million customers every year in airports.

While airport advertising is not as big a business as cable TV, it makes more than $10 million a year for CNN, according to a source familiar with the situation. Any setback will hurt the reach of CNN, which has lagged in the ratings behind News Corp's Fox News and Comcast Corp's MSNBC.

CNN is searching for a new president after its longtime chief Jim Walton said he would depart by the end of the year. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes singled out CNN last quarter for being a weak spot.

Sturek said Clear Channel will initially roll out in mid-sized airports. To try to win over customers, ClearVision will offer a wider array of programming and air shows ranging from comedies to CNBC's morning business updates.

CNN mainly focuses on pulling news and programming from its networks CNN, HLN, CNN International and some local segments. Both companies said they are able to show live sports.

Clear Channel also aims to stand out by letting travelers connect their mobile devices wirelessly to the TV sets starting in the first quarter of next year, so travelers can watch the airport programs on their own screens while they are waiting.

Eventually, travelers will be able to select from different channels.

"So, one traveler can watch news while a person sitting next to them can watch America's Got Talent," Sturek said.

(Reporting By Liana B. Baker, editing by Tiffany Wu and Leslie Gevirtz)

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