When CNN shut down its airport network in March after nearly 30 years, Lynnwood Bibbens already knew a lot about those orphaned screens. Bibbens had been working on a deal with CNN to collaborate on an evolution of CNN Airport — which would have been called the Airport Television Network — when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to those plans.
CNN subsequently decided to get out of the airport business altogether. That gave Bibbens, the founder and CEO of Reach TV, a leg up in acquiring CNN Airport’s distribution; it now programs more than 2,500 screens in at least 85 airports throughout the country.
“We were ready,” Bibbens says. “And every airport director knew it. It was a pretty seamless thing for us to jump right in.”
Bibbens brought in several CNN Airport alums and has mostly moved those screens away from news. Reach TV content partners include NBCUniversal, AMC, A+E Networks, Bloomberg and the NFL. (Reach also produces some programming in-house.) Reach reported around 41 million viewers last month but doesn’t disclose ad revenue. Reach TV can program each screen individually — down to a single gate at a single airport. “For example, in LaGuardia versus JFK versus Newark, even in the same market, we may have different content for people flying United Terminal C than we would have in Terminal B,” he says. “That’s two different types of people coming in and where they’re coming from.”
In acquiring programming, Bibbens says he was inspired by Netflix — which was basically born out of a streaming video-on-demand window — to establish a “closed-circuit rights” window for Reach TV.
“I wanted to have a seat at the table, and there was no way to compete in those [existing cable, SVOD/AVOD and digital] windows as a startup,” he says. “Even digital rights would have been enormous. So that’s one of the things I’m really proud of; we basically created our own window.”
Bibbens is also pleased with his football deal: “The NFL realizes that their audience is in airports, and a game is meant to be watched on a [large] screen, and that’s what we deliver,” he says. “We’re the only television network that gets Thursday, Sunday and Monday games, and then we get playoffs and the Super Bowl. Now airports are calling me because they want those games!”