CNBC International targets business thirst for news from China as bullish boss backs network to succeed in multiplatform media world

William Turvill
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KC Sullivan has led CNBC International from London since 2013 (Source: CNBC)

China's economy may have been an area of concern for many in the business world so far this year.

But for CNBC, the US-founded international business news broadcaster, it represents an opportunity.

The international business community's "thirst" for news from China is growing.

And CNBC wants to be there to provide it - despite the political challenges of working in the country.

Read more: Will weak Chinese inflation mean government action?

In an interview with City A.M., CNBC International president and managing director KC Sullivan says he is “bullish” about the network’s future and predicts expansion in the UK, Europe and beyond.

He suggests his company can learn from the troubles of the print news industry as it contends with competition from digital startups and looks to “partner” with social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.

China, an "incredibly challenging market"

Asked to identify where he sees CNBC's opportunities, Sullivan says: “China is something that is incredibly exciting for me in an emerging market perspective.

“It's an incredibly challenging market, because as a news provider there's limits to what we can do. But the approach we've taken is to try and surround the market, both editorially and commercially.”

CNBC launched its Beijing bureau in 2013 and also has a sales office in Shanghai. The broadcaster has a morning show, Squawk Box Asia, broadcast from Hong Kong and creates a monthly show, Inside China, for an international audience.

CNBC also provides daily Mandarin language TV content for state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), covering international news.

The broadcaster sees "enormous potential to grow both our editorial and commercial footprint in China" and is exploring various digital syndication opportunities in the country.

Sullivan adds: “The thirst for the global business audience for China content just goes up and up and up. So that's an area of focus.

“Commercially, it's also an area that's incredibly interesting. We see both money going into China and out.”

Read more: China trumps Tesco as FTSE 100 hits 2016 high

How media consumption has changed

Sullivan - speaking to City A.M. as CNBC International announced the merging of its ad sales, content creation and data teams into a single unit, CNBC Catalyst - joined the network in the US in 2009 and has led the international operation since 2013.

The non-US business has around 300 people mainly working across hubs in London and Singapore.

Over this period Sullivan says “consumption of media and news has changed completely”.

“And that has changed what we do,” he says. “We have far more folks that think about digital and digital distribution and social.”

He describes CNBC as a multiplatform operation: “I think TV will be important in the future - not just TV, but live streaming video,” he says.

“Whether it’s consumed on a mobile device or whether that’s consumed on a desktop or whether that’s consumed on a television, I think that’s an important component. But I do think that we are very much multiplatform.”

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Being an online operation has blurred the lines of competition for CNBC. Asked who CNBC’s main rivals now are, Sullivan says: “If you asked me that question five, seven years ago it would be much easier to answer. Consumption has diversified so much that it’s really hard to define that.”

He describes social media websites like Facebook and Twitter as “partners” rather than rivals.

“I think folks like Facebook and Twitter are now new distribution platforms,” he says.

“We’ve got to look at how to partner with Facebook... And then figure out how do we get the... information about our audience with them, and figure out how do we monetise that.

“But those are strategic challenges that make this job a lot of fun.”

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The troubles of newspapers have been well documented in the UK recently. Last month, the Independent newspaper was closed and the Guardian said it needed to cut 250 jobs after reporting an operating loss of £58.6m in the year to the end of March.

And, with online rivals to contend with, TV news operations could face the similar challenges. Sullivan says there are “a lot of lessons to be learned” from the print industry.

He adds: “You can’t make a direct correlation between what’s going to happen there and the folks who traditionally come from a TV place. But the media space is moving so quickly.

“I get this question a lot around… the social [media] folks and what impact do they have? And I think there’s a lot of good that they’re creating. And it’s figuring out how do you work with folks and as you look at the ecosystem now, how you navigate your niche, or your audience?”

Despite the challenges ahead, Sullivan says he is "bullish about where we’re going".

“We’re growing. We had a great first quarter. We beat our expectations," he says. “We’re going to grow in 2016 in Europe and across the board.”

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