×

Listen: CNN Digital Chief Says Trump Doesn’t Drive Traffic Success

No subject might get as much attention across CNN’s digital properties as Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean the news network is dependent on him for web traffic.

Andrew Morse, executive VP and general manager of the AT&T-owned company’s digital operations, pointed to recent coverage of natural disasters and international incidents as more potent audience draws than the president.

“The biggest drivers of traffic for CNN digital are stories that are not related to politics,” he said on the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” “CNN’s success in digital has not been driven by Donald Trump.”

Listen to the podcast here:

While politics remains a big priority for CNN as next year’s presidential election approaches, expansions in coverage areas ranging from business to travel will also help insulate the network from the advertisers who are increasingly skittish about associating their brands with polarizing, controversial content.

Morse pledged that consumers in the coming months will see new digital products from CNN, efforts fueled by a new owner that was eager to help the news brand capitalize on its massive wireless customer base.

Said Morse, “We went to WarnerMedia, we went to John Stankey, our CEO, some time ago now and to AT&T, and we said, ‘We think the CNN digital business has extraordinary potential for growth in new products, platforms and experiences, taking this brand and building out. And we think you ought to invest in us.’ Their only question was, ‘How much do you need and how fast can you go?'”

Morse is mum for now on exactly what new offerings CNN has coming, but it’s possible he’ll make good on the subscription extensions to its business that the company signaled nearly two years ago were in development. While he acknowledged that some of that development led to dead ends, Morse said CNN learned from mistakes in ways that some other digital content players in the digital space did not.

“A lot of our competitors that were quick at the time — the digital upstarts that were quick to criticize CNN, criticize old media — and took shots at us,” said Morse. “They’re not around anymore. We weathered the storm, we took the turns we needed to take, and now we’re well positioned for the future.”

CNN is also proceeding cautiously in its partnerships with social media giants like Facebook, which Morse regards as competitors as much as they are collaborators.

“It’s pretty hard to look at them and not see a media company, and the same with Apple,” he said of Facebook. “And the reality is I don’t think we should cede the ground in the news business to Facebook or Apple. I think the stakes are too high. I think they’ve let down audiences, I think they’ve let down advertisers, I think they’ve let down journalism. And no matter how many task forces and how many reporters they hire, it doesn’t change the fact that’s not their core business.”

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Past episodes include conversations with Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Dana Walden, co-head of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Television Group. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • T-Mobile

    T-Mobile Completes Sprint Takeover, Repeats Vow to Not Raise Prices for 3 Years

    T-Mobile said it officially closed its merger with rival Sprint — creating a wireless carrier with over 100 million customers nationwide — and reiterated its pledge to not increase customers’ fees for the next three years. The deal, worth more than $31 billion based on T-Mobile’s closing stock price Tuesday, ends the nearly two-year effort [...]

  • J.K. Rowling Launches 'Harry Potter at

    J.K. Rowling Launches 'Harry Potter at Home' Digital Hub

    J.K. Rowling has launched “Harry Potter at Home,” a digital hub with a cauldron full of treats to keep young children occupied while they are held captive at home during the coronavirus crisis. The hub, which includes contributions from publishing houses Bloomsbury and Scholastic, has magical craft videos, fun articles, quizzes, puzzles and more for [...]

  • Spotify

    Spotify Renews Global Licensing Deal With Warner Music

    At the stroke of 8 a.m. ET, Spotify and Warner Music announced that they have renewed their global licensing deal. The two companies are believed to have been out of contract for around nine months, although that is not an uncommon situation for streaming services and music companies. “Spotify and Warner Music Group are pleased [...]

  • Tom Hanks - 2020 Census

    Tom Hanks, Selena Gomez, Janelle Monáe and More Promote 2020 Census in New Video (WATCH)

    Amid the nationwide coronavirus pandemic, six celebrities have come together for a PSA to urge Americans to be counted in the 2020 Census. The new video features Tom Hanks, Selena Gomez, Janelle Monáe, Megan Rapinoe, Faith Hill and Liza Koshy explaining the importance of participating in the U.S. Census. It premiered across digital-media company ATTN:’s [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B Was Instagram's Video Queen of the Quarantine in March

    Cardi B is the Instagram viral-video queen the internet apparently needs during the coronavirus pandemic. While Kylie Jenner dominated Instagram in 2019, Cardi B took over in March: Five of the top 10 most-viewed videos on the platform last month came from the outspoken rapper and entertainer, as tracked by Pex, an L.A.-based video and [...]

  • Black AF Netflix

    Everything Coming to Netflix in April

    As everyone continues to self-quarantine and practice social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no better “at-home” activity than catching up on all the new films and shows streaming on Netflix this April. A number of new series are set to premiere on the streaming platform, including “Never Have I Ever,” “#BlackAf,” “OuterBanks,” “The [...]

  • Illustration of the video streaming company

    Video Streaming to TVs Soared 85% in U.S. in First Three Weeks of March, Nielsen Says

    During the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are staying home — and, as you would expect, they’re streaming more than ever. U.S. consumers’ viewing of streaming has continued to increase through March. Over the first three weeks of March 2020, the total estimated number of minutes streamed to the TV was 400 billion, up 85% compared with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content