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We will continue building on our YouTube success story: CNN-News18's Zakka Jacob

CNN-News18’s Managing Editor speaks about the channel’s journey of achieving staggering numbers of viewers and subscribers on YouTube in a short span of time, plans to create more digital exclusive content, and more

Zakka Jacob

To keep up with the changing times, news channels have been expanding their reach to video platforms, like YouTube, with an aim to tap into a wider audience base and provide news content in a format that appeals to the viewers. 

In a conversation with, Zakka Jacob, Managing Editor, CNN-News18, said that with the changing viewer behaviours, broadcasters and content creators need to be where audiences are today and identify the right platform to put out their content on.

He also spoke about the turning point for CNN-News18’s YouTube channel which resulted in achieving a huge viewership and subscriber base.

Turning point for CNN-News18’s YouTube channel

“What is particularly heartening about our YouTube channel's success is that not only we have become number one in a very short span of time, say in the last six months or so, but today we have also reached a stage where the number of our viewers is twice the number of viewers of two other news channels, combined together, as per the recent weekly stats of a data source,” Jacob said.

“I'll do a small recap of what basically became a turning point for our YouTube channel story. It was about six months ago when the then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which became a very big geo-political story. So, we were the only mainstream channel that was live from the Taiwan airport at the time when her plane touched down and we suddenly saw a huge spike in interest among viewers. It went up to one lakh concurrent views and that particular stream of her landing there had around three or four million views. That's when it really started turning for us and we realised that there is a huge appetite for news not just in the country but around the world,” he added.

Furthermore, he went on to state that in broadcast, you are doing one story at a time and you are catering largely to the national audience whereas on YouTube you can do 20 stories at a time. So, it's like running 20 different channels and that audience is also global, it isn't restricted to just the domestic audience.

Broadcasters need to be where the audiences are today

“There is a great potential for content on a YouTube platform or any other video platform from India. We have become number one in a short span of time on YouTube, Facebook and TV as well. So, as broadcasters and content creators we are now becoming very platform agnostic. It doesn't matter where you are putting that content and where it is being consumed, you have to be where the audiences are today,” Jacob said.

“It's heartening to see that our content strategies are working for us not just for TV but for YouTube and Facebook. In the month of January, we had 173 million views on YouTube and 135 million views on Facebook and it is staggering as no other Indian platform has got that kind of response. I am very confident that the day is not far away when CNN-News18 or any Indian broadcaster or content creator becomes the biggest global news brand, especially on social media platforms. It is entirely possible for an Indian content creator, broadcaster or YouTube platform to lead in terms of both views as well as revenues on platforms like YouTube and Facebook,” he added.

Focusing on developing more digital exclusive content for video platforms

“We also want to try and develop more digital-only content or digital exclusive content. Currently on our page, at least on the VOD (video-on-demand) part, maybe 60% to 70% of our content is video content that has gone on TV. So, we need to move to a stage where that balance is more like 50-50. At least 50% of our videos should be digital exclusive, made only for video platforms online as opposed to TV content,” he added.

Providing what mainstream media isn’t

Jacob believes that there is an appetite for global news and for the content which people feel they are not getting from traditional sources of media, whether it is in the US or the UK or any of the other western markets.

"If you look at our YouTube page, much of our content there are either the stories that mainstream media in those countries aren't covering or we have a unique angle to those stories which we are presenting. That's really where our content strikes a chord with the audience. For example, we had multiple streams on our YouTube channel on the Turkey earthquake incident and it continues.” Jacob stated.

Furthermore, he added, “One thing that has really worked well for us is the fact that we are able to identify exactly what kind of content our YouTube audiences want and we are providing them with that. The audiences are reaping it as well as our subscriber base has gone up substantially. Six months ago we were in the two million range and today we are in the three-and-a-half million range.”

YouTube vs TV

Speaking about the different content strategies of YouTube and TV, Jacob said that one big distinction is that TV largely caters to a national audience therefore, more national news seems to work there. Whereas YouTube caters to a more global audience.

"The second major distinction is the viewer feedback which is instant on social media. For TV, you have to wait for one whole week till the BARC ratings come and then you do your data analysis to find which stories worked and which didn't,” he added.

Offering more content formats

“We want to do more interactive shows, engage with our subscriber base and people who are chatting and giving their real-time feedback for our content. We also want to try and do more video explainers which are really a way to go forward,” Jacob said.

“We are also planning to start a podcast and some of that content will go on YouTube and Facebook as well. Ultimately, TV in India has reached a certain amount of scale today but digital has just gotten started. So, going forward the challenge for all of us would be to bring this scale of TV to digital,” he added.

No impact on focus on TV

Jacob asserted that the content planning for YouTube has had no impact on the team’s focus on TV.

"One of the things that we are extremely proud of is that we are on top across various platforms. We are number one on TV now and this is the 43rd week that we have been number one, and soon we will be hitting 52 weeks," he said.

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