Why trust relevance reliability matters to news consumers

Why trust, reliability and relevance matters most to news consumers

Brands and publishers must focus on these areas to truly engage with the modern news consumer.
By Tini Sevak, VP Audiences & Data, CNNIC

July 15th, 2019

In the last five years, we have seen a global shift in where consumers are spending their time, with people spending on average over 11 hours a day consuming media in some form across platforms – which has affected how people find their news.

The increase in technology, data and connectivity have also resulted in audiences today having higher expectations and lower attention spans when it comes to content.

Brands, therefore, need to focus on audiences’ spiralling expectations, which include: accuracy and trust, understanding audiences and treating them as people, and providing audiences with relevant and meaningful content.

Amanpour's exclusive interview with Angela Merkel

Christiane Amanpour's exclusive with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Richard Quest at the NY Stock Exchange

Richard Quest presents The Express from the NY Stock Exchange

TV networks like CNN need to deepen their knowledge and understanding of audiences so that their experiences are relevant, and therefore resonate more deeply. 

Marketing has existed for many decades, but the modern era – with the advent of traditional and then digital media – has transformed consumers’ relationships with products.

Looking back, the birth of outbound marketing in the early 20th century created a period of mass production and inefficiency as advertising (in the form of print and posters) spoke at consumers rather than with them. In the 1950s and 1960s, the marketplace became saturated and, as a result, there was intense competition for customers.

This age of the smoke and bourbon-filled offices saw a shift in the role of marketing into a strategic lever to inform what should be produced, and the beginning of market research to understand not only what consumers wanted to buy, but also how brands could meet those needs.

As with many industries, the emergence of the internet changed everything. In the 2000s post-dot com bubble, we entered the era of inbound marketing and media, which demanded consumers be placed at the heart of campaigns and companies’ strategies. Brands deployed new forms of media and tactics to create consumer engagement.

For the first time, there was a shift in the use of media to create value for customers. This whistle-stop tour helps contextualise the journey of how and why we reached the modern marketing era and what created the consumer demands we witness today.

Consumers...are making faster, more connected decisions about spending

With consumers now having more choice, power and information they are making faster, more connected decisions about spending and media consumption. The pace continues to accelerate as consumers use more mobile technology than ever before. However, while brands and media owners embrace the new, we must remember that data and technology have changed how we do what we do as an industry, but not fundamentally what we do.

Brands are expected to use technology to make things faster, easier and more productive while ensuring the audience feels part of something meaningful and culturally significant. It is vital for brands today to make experiences “personal” to audiences and deliver them at the moments when they are going to resonate the most. For example, considering the mindset of the audience is important – when will an audience want to engage with your content and how can you anticipate a change in life moment using the signals they are providing?


This transformation in marketing and consumer expectation cannot be seen in isolation. It must also be viewed in the context of how media has developed and must continue to evolve. In the last five years, we have seen a global shift in where consumers are spending their time. People spent on average over 11 hours a day consuming media in some form across platforms, marking a 10% increase in consumption versus 2012.*

Anderson Cooper filming on location

TV continues to remain important, albeit reduced from an average viewing of two hours and 15 minutes per day in 2012 to one hour and 55 minutes in 2018. Unsurprisingly, we are seeing a shift in people spending more time online – especially in non-English speaking countries. Time spent on mobile five years ago was roughly one hour and 15 minutes per day; now it’s over three hours and 15 minutes.

In emerging markets this trend is even further accelerated: in Thailand, Philippines, Brazil and Indonesia the time spent on mobile exceeds four and a half hours per day.  These changes in consumer behaviour have also affected how people find their news, with smartphones becoming the primary device for news consumption.

The starting point for news for international audiences is generally websites or apps (67% find news this way) followed by social (58%) and search (42%). Nevertheless, national TV (61%) and dedicated TV news channels (55%) still play a critical role in following the story.**

Driven by concerns of misinformation, in 2019 we are also starting to see people (especially younger audiences) spend less time on social media, specifically Facebook, for news.*** This is explained by findings in our own research which showed that while 68% of international news audiences have used Facebook for news, less than a quarter of the audience trusts news from the platform.**

Furthermore, the frequency at which people source their news is also increasing, with audiences checking social (83%), search (73%), and news sites and apps (77%) at least once or multiple times daily.** These insights speak to the rapid change of the "news cycle", and to the need for brands and publishers to focus on providing audiences with content that matters to them.


The increase in technology, data and connectivity have also resulted in audiences today having higher expectations and lower attention spans when it comes to content. We live in the Amazon era of easy accessibility and fast delivery, in which audiences demand media and news brands meet their spiralling expectations.

The various studies available and our own research show this is driven by three points:

1. Building credibility and favourability through accuracy and trust – being responsible not just with audiences' data but in the calibre of the content delivered to them.

2. Having a deep and enriched knowledge of audiences – understanding and treating them as people with real-life interests and behaviours, not proxies defined by general demographics.

3. Providing audiences with relevant and meaningful content – identifying the key moments when content is going to resonate the most.

Trust, reliability and relevance are the three fundamental pillars underpinning each one of the points above.

Looking more deeply at a bespoke brand perception study we conducted earlier this year across 12 markets, 55% of respondents rated CNN as trustworthy and reliable, 4.6 times higher than the average. Among those who watch CNN on a weekly basis, our scores increase to 72%. The important point to take from this is that trust translates into loyalty, and vice versa.

Consumers are relying more on "reputable brands" as trust in news more generally continues to fall

Backing up our findings, the importance of trust permeated throughout the recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report, which found consumers are relying more on "reputable brands" as trust in news more generally continues to fall, with rising concerns of negativity, fake news and overload of information. In the global study, nearly a quarter of people (24%) said they would stop using sources that had a "less accurate reputation", and 41% say they checked accuracy by comparing multiple sources.

Linked directly to this need for trust is an appetite for enterprising and informed journalism. Our research supports this, with audiences telling us that they most value journalists who display "depth of knowledge and passion", an ability and drive for the truth, and a willingness to go to wherever the heart of the story is to report the facts first-hand.

Audiences say they come to CNN for the following reasons:

- 79% say to better understand what is going on the world today.
- 84% because they want something unique that they can’t get anywhere else.
- 83% for content that is relevant to them.
- 72% for news that is important to them personally.

It is paramount for CNN and other news brands to live up these expectations if we are to retain and grow audiences.


While this insight shows us what audiences want, we need to dig deeper to truly understand their behaviour. Thankfully, the challenge of media fragmentation has provided the boon of knowing audiences with more depth and breadth than ever before due to improved digital, data and technology.

This depth is about going beyond just connecting with a viewer to actually building tangible experiences, which in turn requires shifting from traditional approaches to consumer marketing towards a truly integrated cross-platform strategy.

The challenge for a global news network like CNN in a traditionally data-poor landscape such as pan-regional TV is how to have such experiences with individuals across our key markets when we have over 640 million adults engaging with us on a regular basis. The only way to achieve this is by utilising the scale of our data to deepen our knowledge and understanding of audiences so that their experiences are relevant, and therefore resonate more deeply.

Define audiences by their attitudes, interests and behaviours

We use everything from global surveys, digital analytics tools, social listening platforms, emotional measurement solutions and our first-party data to understand our audiences as people, not proxies. Going well beyond the archaic pan-regional data tools requires using sophisticated means to define audiences by their attitudes, interests and behaviours.

As someone who has worked in data and analytics for two decades, I can speak from personal experience that this requires a shift of mindset from categorising an audience in a homogenous term such as ‘affluent’ or an ABC1 to truly understanding them as, say, a working parent who travels for work and leisure, likes sport and has interest in topics X, Y and Z.

Only with such a customer view can we demonstrate an understanding of what our audiences care about, and in the process learn about the key moments that matter to them to determine when our content will be the most pertinent and appropriate.

This isn’t purely parochial either. Everyone can win – not just the news brand – from having an appreciation of the need for relevant, trusted and reliable content. Advertisers and audiences have just as much to gain from creating deeper experiences. Consumers expect a two-way relationship with brands and furthermore, expect experiences to be consistent across all touchpoints.

Listening to consumers, understanding their behaviour, interacting with them and responding to their wants and needs (all in a data responsible and safe environment of course) is the only way this is achieved.

Tini Sevak
Vice President, Audiences and Data, CNN International Commercial

Tini Sevak joined CNN to lead its international data strategy, create new solutions that further inform business intelligence and provide commercial partners with sophisticated ways to utilise campaign insight.

* GWI Q1 2019
** CNN Bespoke Brand Perception Study, Feb 2019
*** Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019