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"The story you will never see on airport TV"


 
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Column
The story you will never see on airport TV 
By Stu Bykofsky
The Philadelphia (PA) Daily News
      
 
So you're sitting near the gate at Philadelphia International Airport, waiting 
for your plane. After you read your newspaper (I hope) and  finish making calls 
on your cellphone, check emails and Snapchat (millennials only), you look at 
the wall-mounted TV screen, and there's CNN.

When you walk through the terminal changing planes in Chicago, there's CNN. And 
when you reach your final destination, San Francisco, the airport screens are 
showing CNN -- not Fox, not MSNBC, not ESPN.

Coincidence? No.
 
And it's not exactly CNN. It is a close relative, a customized feed called CNN 
Airport Network, a satellite-delivered service that has a television monopoly 
at 50 U.S. airports, plus the one in Bermuda. It is seen at 2,400 gates.
    
The word monopoly makes CNN Airport Network senior vice president Debbie Cooper 
wince.

Winning contracts at airports is a result of responding to requests for bids 
across the spectrum, whether it's for TV operations, cleaning services, or 
restaurants. So while CNN has a "de facto" monopoly, says Cooper, other 
networks could be brought in. 

CNN Airport Network launched in 1991 during the Gulf War, before cellphones 
delivered the world to your palm. Then-bossman Ted Turner, the colorful 
visionary, thought people were interested enough in the news to make this thing 
work. It did, just as did CNN, which he launched a decade earlier, in 1980.

Thankfully, the war ended quickly and with it the need for hard news 24/7. 
Turner broadened the airport programming.
  
Now, the network delivers national and international news, entertainment, 
weather, travel -- and live sports, from March Madness to the Super Bowl.

But while you seem to be watching CNN, and sometimes you are, there are also 
departures from the main feed, including original programming and commercials 
that are customized for the air traveler. The CNN Airport Network has three of 
its own reporters and its own control room in Atlanta.

Here's a little secret:  The airport news service filters the news. You will 
never see a newsworthy air disaster on an airport screen, even if such a report 
is being carried by CNN. The airport operation runs on a 10-second delay, which 
allows it to edit on the fly, pun intended, to block "bad" airline news from 
passengers who might be upset by it. The network usually covers banned news by 
throwing in a quick weather report or other filler.

The network knows it has a captive audience, some of whom are nervous fliers. 
"We don't want airport travelers in distress," says spokeswoman Bridget 
Leininger.
  
The average viewing time per airport is 53 minutes, says Alison Hashimoto, vice 
president of programming. "We have a very broad audience, people from 3 to 93," 
she says, and research shows  "people like a variety of content."

About 35 percent of the content is news and weather, followed by 25 percent for 
live sports, 15 percent for lifestyle, 15 percent for travel, and 10 percent 
for local  content. 

 "We know our audience very well, and they want diversity," Cooper says. "They 
want to sit back in the passive mode and absorb information or be entertained."

In addition to being paid by CNN Airport Network, airports get up to six 
minutes each hour to promote the airport or local attractions. One hand washes 
the other. 
  
All that's good, the diversity and all, but living in a supercharged political 
environment has its hazards.

Such as some conservative passengers objecting to being force-fed programming 
from what they like to call the "Clinton News Network" and which President 
Trump has accused of broadcasting "fake news," one of his many peculiar beliefs.

"People have their right to any opinion," says Hashimoto, choosing her words 
carefully, "and at CNN we stand by all the reporting that is going on every 
day. CNN is a very trusted news source," and she points to a 2014 Pew Research 
poll that found CNN "most trusted" among the networks.  "One thing we've 
learned is that people are not afraid to say their opinions."

That's a statement that certainly won't be subject to challenge.
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