CNN Everywhere::Do We Need TV in Public Spaces?

    by Mark Glaser
    March 20, 2006

    i-44592754db47fc9cf46aeef72712acc0-CNN Airport.JPG
    I spent the past week on a work vacation of sorts in Austin, Texas, which is a good thing. But one annoying thing was when I was stuck in an airport, and couldn’t tune out the ubiquitous TV monitors blaring the CNN Airport Network.

    As a longtime news junkie, I used to consider this TV broadcast in airports to be a service, a way to get updated on top news while on the go. But now it feels like overkill, with so many other ways to get news. I could open my laptop and go online to get news. I could go to a nearby airport bar or restaurant to watch TV. I could get news updates on my smart phone or PDA, if I had one and wanted them bad enough.

    The CNN Airport Network was on the cutting edge when it was launched in 1992 as the first satellite-delivered news service for travelers in airports. But now in a world of so many personal media options, it’s time to take down those monitors. In one airport gate, I was basically held hostage to the TV, blaring news summaries at high volume, repeated over and over and over. Imagine being stuck for three hours and seeing the same thing repeated endlessly.


    Can you ask an airline representative to change the channel? Turn down the volume? Analyze the news? At some point, having TV in public spaces becomes more of an annoyance than a helpful service. And my guess is that if CNN and its airport partners don’t tone it down in some way, the brand they’re selling will lose its luster.

    And that goes for TVs that have sprouted up in other public spaces, from grocery checkout lines and Wal-Marts to elevators. We are of course drawn to these TVs, especially if they have informative and entertaining programming for us. But when does the insertion of these media in public spaces become burdensome? When will we choose to shop or take elevators elsewhere in order to avoid the nattering TV boxes, hurting the very businesses that are raking in money from these services?

    Sure, we can look away, we can put in our iPod earbuds and tune it out. But that’s not the point. If the airports and grocery stores and other public places push too far with invasive media in our lives, those media — and their advertisers — will leave a nasty taste in our mouths. And CNN knows quite well that we have other cable news options if we tire of their service.


    If media and advertising are becoming less about broadcasting to the masses and more about a one-on-one conversation, I fail to see how these types of broadcasts fit in — especially when they can hold you hostage at an airport gate.

    What do you think? Do you like the CNN Airport Network or other public TV services? Or do you agree that their days could be numbered? Share your thoughts in the comments.

    UPDATE: After posting this, I received a message from William Jeakle, who was one of the architects of the CNN Airport Network. We had an extensive phone conversation about the history and success of the network, and I posted much of that in an extended follow-up entry.

    • Charles Clark

      Someone needs to pay attention to the customers, and the unnecessary and excessive noise pollution is a real detriment to society. The customers have a hard time with it and some use earplugs, but someone should put a stop to it. Keep trying, most customers would appreciate it. Thank you.

    • Eve

      The person who referred to television as “an open sewer in one’s living room” was insulting open sewers. If people wish to watch television in their own homes, that is their right. However, forcing helpless, trapped people to listen to that swill in airports, restaurants and waiting rooms is inexcusable.

    • I just feel as if Wolf Blitzer is stalking me …

    • Ben

      I actually never quite understood why airports needed a specialized network from CNN to offer news services to those flying. At the time of conception it must have been a novel idea. Watch the latest on senate judicial hearings, fly for 3 hours to your destination, then catch up on the part of the story you missed while waiting for your next flight. However, as CNN has evolved, and other news channels have grown into their own, couldn’t airports start offering a choice? Perhaps the REAL CNN, a variety of news channels, or CNBC for those business travellers that want to stay up on their stocks?

      Then again, requesting all of that would fit into your thoughts on personalized data. Perhaps as a service to travellers airports should start to offer free wi-fi Internet access so that those waiting can get the information they need. Many large cities are already developing plans for city wide wi-fi (sor a small fee to residents), so the concept is viable. Perhaps airports should start thinking about why the TVs are there. Entertainment, or true portals for information?

    • Steve

      I was at a gas pump recently that played CNN at me from a tiny little screen.

      I am not making this up.

      I wish I was.

      I now avoid that gas station.

    • I avoid restaurants with TVs. I go out to eat to socialize and connect with my family and friends, not to watch their eyes dart from TV to TV as they shovel food in their mouths and offer mindless “uh huh” replies to my attempts at conversation. I can get that at home (for much less money).

    • EM Jackson

      Can’t you “tune it out”? I can .. I watch when I have a long layover .. otherwise I tune it out and wouldn’t know what it was showing even if it reported a meteor was going to hit!

    • Jonathan Little

      I agree with everything you stated. Last year I took a red eye from Seattle to Washington, DC and when I got off the plane in DC at around 6am they were still airing the same exact stuff that was on the previous night in Seattle. Granted there’s not a lot of “news” happening in the USA or viewers during the night, but still had to laugh at the repetition of it. (I had already listened the the same loop of “news” at least two or three times while sitting in Seattle. Luckily in the C/D terminal of Dulles it wasn’t as loud as it was in the north terminal of Sea-Tac airport.)

      Beyond the repetition problem is the volume of the CNN Airport Network, as you mentioned. Often when I encouter it, it’s so loud and distracting that you can’t do anything else in the gate area, like talk or read. I know I can’t tune it out when it’s at such a loud volume. By the way, does CNN’s contract with the airports call for a certain decibel level, or do the airports think they’re doing us a service by blaring this content into our ears?

      The third major problem is a general lack of decent real news content from CNN. I don’t see a lot of value in any US TV “news” at the moment. It’s useful maybe .005% of the time when real breaking news is happening, but the rest of the time it’s a bunch of poorly written fluff that it doesn’t even serve an entertainment purpose.

    • Don’t forget the gym, we even have two perched in the ladies change room. Ugh
      No, we don’t need televisions everywhere.

    • bug

      I take matters into my own hands and aim my TV-B-Gone at such public nuisances. Sweet silence, and the advertisers will just have to hawk their wares to some other audience. People in the audience barely blink, much less raise a complaint.


    • The world would be a better place if all public spaces had Eno’s “Discreet Music” playing continously.

    • Mary S.

      Dr. Alan Zimmerman states in his book, “Pivot”, “Perhaps we should rename CNN and call it ‘Constant Negative News.'” It is difficult to go anywhere and not have televisions blasting at you. I agree that we have other options and it is time for a paradigm shift away from “group” media to personal media where people can zero in on the news they are interested in. Is there something terribly wrong about just plain quiet??

    • Tatian Greenleaf

      It looks like the introduction of televised advertisements in gas stations is underway, as well.

      I am planning to buy a TV-B-Gone remote now that I’ve been exposed to blaringly loud commercials without the option to reduce the volume or turn the TV off.

      Public TV should be optional… but then I guess it wouldn’t generate the revenue.

    • At the time of conception it must have been a novel idea. Watch the latest on senate judicial hearings, fly for 3 hours to your destination, then catch up on the part of the story you missed while waiting for your next flight. However, as CNN has evolved, and other news channels have grown into their own, couldn’t airports start offering a choice?

    • Sarah T

      I despise tv in public spaces. I just got back in my car to find a place to get gas that doesn’tyave blaring TVs next to the pumps!

      • Sarah T

        Please excuse “doesn’t have” typo, obviously. Also, the “You might also be interested in…” bar is another public annoyance, hijacking nearly half my screen in horizontal mode!

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