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Making Money of Mobile Content: An Interview with Vice President of CNN Mobile

Mobile technology is starting to change the way that people accesses news but can media companies rely on the platform as a source of revenue?

Last week we talked to Louis Gump, Vice President of CNN Mobile about how CNN makes money via mobile technology. Mr. Gump, who has worked in mobile technology for decades, spoke to the EO by phone while visiting Hong Kong last week.

CNN has enjoyed tremendous success in terms of attracting viewers. Over 2.4 billion viewers around the world tuned into CNN during the Katrina Crisis, and it was the 3rd most frequented news site in the US in 2009.

CNN first launched its first mobile website in 1999, the news giant has since developed a wide array of products for wireless devices and launched the international edition of its iPhone application in July of this year. The media company also hosts a service called CNN iReport, a user generated news community which can also be accessed by the international iPhone app. This service allows users to browse user-generated content, register, sign-in to their account or sign in as a guest to capture and instantly upload user-generated photos and videos (with the iPhone 3GS and above).  

"CNN sees mobile technology as a business," insists Mr. Gump. It is not just a marketing tool for television broadcasts.

But how exactly does mobile technology generate profit? Mr. Gump identified three sources of revenue from mobile technology, including "advertisements," "agreements with wireless carriers" where CNN receives some of the subscription revenue from wireless providers  and "individual app fees" such as revenue from the CNN iPhone app. The three sources combined make mobile news an increasingly lucrative industry.

"We're just doing what newspapers and magazines have done for years," Gump says. CNN is generating revenue from both subscriptions and advertisements. But he also points out several marketing differences. "People go to mobile looking for a specific thing, but then they start to browse," he explains, "mobile advertisements get more clicks than the ones on the internet. We have to present the ad in a compelling way."

China is currently the world's largest and fastest growing communications market. Chinese providers have spent 21 billion US dollars on developing 3G technology and related network requirements, and domestic sales of 3G devices have continued to skyrocket.

When asked if CNN has any plans of seriously tapping into this rapidly growing market, Mr. Gump avoided discussing the company's immediate plans. But he did admit interest in implementing  "a Chinese platform." "China is an interesting place for global news" he adds, "not only because of Chinese residents but business travelers that want to stay connected to what's going on."

CNN mobile currently offers an international edition in Japanese, but no other Asian languages.
But CNN has not always had the most auspicious relationship with the Chinese public. After its allegedly biased reporting of the political unrest in Tibet, the news network received an avalanche of protest from Chinese viewers. Despite the controversy, CNN remains a popular global news network in China.

We also asked Mr. Gump if he thought mobile technology was changing the way journalists report the news. Mr. Gump replied by emphasizing that regardless of the device, CNN is committed to "quality journalism," and "there are very few in the world that have the kind of coverage in terms of bureaus and reporters. Our photos and videos are very compelling."

"It's still too early for content differentiation," he says,"But we do think mobile is different. And, we're taking that into account."

This article was edited by Pang Lei

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