What Is Really Meant By “Exclusive”? The AT&T-CNN Non-Deal

One of the hardest parts of reporting on mobile content is working out exactly what companies are offering… the word most bandied about and misused is “exclusive”. For example, in an article on CTIA RCR News reported AT&T (NYSE: T) as saying that “CNN Mobile will be its second exclusive channel”, after one by Sony Pictures Television. Multichannel News picked up on that, and quoted CNN spokesperson Jennifer Martin as saying no such deal was currently in place. When I spoke with Martin she told me all she could say on the matter was “there is not currently a signed deal in place”. In response to another question she affirmed that “how we define exclusive, we don’t do exclusive deals”. AT&T didn’t respond to repeated e-mails (AT&T did respond, but e-mails were lost).

It appears that de la Vega jumped the gun in announcing a deal being negotiated as if it had been finalized, which isn’t that big a deal, but I am going to take exception to his use of the word “exclusive”. CNN content is used by many carriers around the world, and in the US Sprint (NYSE: S) runs a streaming TV channel which is a combination of live flagship programs from CNN and live anchored streams from CNN.com. So “exclusive” can’t refer to anything more than a particular combination of various CNN content, and could mean that only AT&T has it on MediaFLO, as an attempt to distinguish AT&T’s offering from that of Verizon (NYSE: VZ). Attracting customers with content is fine, and attracting customers with exclusives is fine, but if the exclusive isn’t actually that exclusive it could be seen as just a marketing trick, and cast doubt on the whole product.

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