In March 2021, the CNN Airport Network permanently went off the air. The family-friendly station, which was much more news-oriented than its politics-oriented parent company, was shut down after 30 years on the air in airports across the U.S.
At the time, Jeff Zucker, then-President of CNN Worldwide, cited the reasons for the shutdown as the vast decrease in airport traffic due to COVID and all the new ways people were consuming content on their personal devices. He says the two had, “…lessened the need for the CNN Airport Network.”
Upon its demise, CNN Network News had been shown in 60 airports across the country. Although Zucker thought people were consuming content on their personal devices, airport officials across the country, perhaps wondering what they were going to do with the dozens of orphaned screens they had been using for CNN, thought otherwise.
So did Lynnwood Bibbens.
Bibbens is the co-founder and CEO of Reach TV. A startup in mid-2017, and named ReachMe.TV at the time, it was providing original programming, local news, sports and weather to about 50 airports (and 3/4 of a million hotel rooms) throughout the U.S. and Canada.
As Insider said about the then-fledgling company, “If you come across a ReachMe.TV screen at the airport, it could be playing anything from a brief recap of last night’s sports highlights, to a three-minute profile about a fashion blogger. It’s programming designed to be watched in short bursts.”
Later in 2017, ReachMe.TV was sued by Weigel Broadcasting, the Chicago-based parent company of Me-TV, citing Intellectual Property – Trademark issues. By 2019, ReachMe.TV had changed its name to Reach TV.
In early 2020, Bibbens had been working on a deal with CNN where they would collaborate on an evolution of CNN Airport. The “new” station would have been called the Airport Television Network. But then the pandemic started, those plans were shelved, and CNN Airport Network had folded.
With the knowledge he already had from discussions with CNN, Bibbens could easily acquire CNN Airport Network’s distribution, and even expand further than CNN’s station ever had.
Bibbens initially brought in several former CNN Airport Network employees and, over time, partnered with the likes of NBCUniversal, AMC, A+E Networks, Live Nation Entertainment, Hollywood Reporter, etc. ReachTV is now the largest airport television network, with 2,500+ screens in 90 commercial airports and 58 private/FBO airports across North America.
Instead of concentrating on news, Reach TV, perhaps wisely, goes in another direction. Bibbens says the two core principles of the network are truth & positivity and they’re the key to engaging and entertaining their captive audience as they travel. They also tend to focus on short bursts of programming in a variety of genres, rather than longer TV shows, since their audience tends to (or hopes to, assuming their plane isn’t delayed) be transient.
Reach TV can also program each screen individually, even down to a single gate at a single airport, if needed. “For example, in LaGuardia versus JFK…even in the same market, we may have different content for people flying United Terminal C than we would have in Terminal B,” says Bibbens. “That’s two different types of people coming in and where they’re coming from.”
Bibbens appears to be most proud of its deal with the NFL. “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 said. “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!”
So the next time you’re a the airport and watching the TV screens to pass the time, heads up that it’s not CNN Airport Network anymore. Chances are it’s Reach TV.
Feature Photo: Reach TV / Twitter
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