Blog | Ascend Media Network: Recapturing the Magic of Travel


Nov 5, 2021

There is no question that the travel experience has and will continue to evolve, and quickly. What will replace CNN Airport Media Network? Will a new monopoly form, or will airports deploy private media networks?

As business and leisure passenger counts inch ever-closer to 2019 levels, there is no question that the travel experience has and will continue to evolve into something that looks quite different than what was once considered normal. Customer experience add-ons that remind us to spread out and keep a safe distance are likely here to stay. These range from low-tech solutions like plexiglass dividers, hand sanitizer stations and static floor stickers, to more complex technological innovations, such as biometric identification and thermal imaging cameras, all of which will fuel the emerging contactless travel journey, making passenger processing safer and more efficient.

What Will Replace CNN Airport Media Network?

While slightly less noticeable to the traveling public than those of us in the know, non-aeronautical revenue such as parking, retail as well as food and beverage concessions took an equally devastating hit. What passengers may have noticed on the airside, however, is that something once ubiquitous was missing. In January 2021, CNN Airport Network announced that it would cease operations after 30 years as a staple in the nation’s hold rooms (“CNN Airport Network to shut down after 30 years,” 2021). One can assume that the overnight plummet in passengers caused advertisers to pull their support from the network, thus from the airports in which it operated. But perhaps the network’s fate was inevitable: the victim of the changing media network landscape.

One airport director I spoke with reported that the contentious political climate emanating from 2020 led to a significant increase in passenger complaints, which led his team to proactively shutter the programming on their own. More than that, however, media’s rapid evolution - social media in particular - has changed the way nearly everything is done, from the way news and entertainment are consumed, to the way business is conducted.

Today’s passenger wants content that is relevant, something that will enhance their experience, answer their questions or solve a problem. Questions such as, “How long will we wait for a rideshare once we arrive,” or “What are the must-see attractions and best restaurants according to other vacationers,” are increasingly common, replacing the need for traditional one-to-many communications and guides. Additionally, social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube have shaped the public’s viewing preference with algorithms serving up fast-paced short bursts of interesting and entertaining nuggets of information into which the users’ interactions and preferences are fed. This has led to changes in advertisers’ expectations as well. No longer satisfied with mass broadcast of messaging, advertisers want the ability to hyper-target consumers with specific offers that have a high probability of conversion. This ensures that the more than $120 billion spent annually on digital advertising is effective and highly optimized.

As for the entertainment void in many airport gate areas, the question then becomes whether airports can capitalize on what we know about this new media reality. Can they successfully create a more compelling experience for their passengers and reclaim the significant revenue from their valuable and captive audience? Some of CNN’s approximately 58 airport customers decided to take over programming themselves, using content that ranges from marketing and promotional videos to dynamic feeds. A few providers brought solutions forward which leveraged existing restaurant and bar broadcasts and leveraged the one-to-many architecture which CNN offered to leave behind. But none of these truly provide the capability to satisfy passengers’ modern viewing expectations to the extent that advertisers want to make significant investments which drive revenue for tier 1 and 2 airport markets.

Ascend Media Network for Digital Airports

PRN, a STRATACACHE company, is betting that its latest monetized Ascend Media Network will attract airports and similar organizations. Providing highly compelling content, curated from innovative content partners, it promises to rival the screens in our pockets. Ascend Media Network leverages external data, such as flight information, real-time weather data and more to provide destination-specific programming, including a variety of “most popular” points of interest and events, social calendars, local news and sports. Also, the displays are location-aware, down to the terminal and gate. This level of precision allows Ascend to promote products and services that customers can easily walk to for immediate purchase. Increased relevance makes these calls to action more compelling, increasing retail and F&B concessions.

With more than 30 years in the practice of monetized display networks for the world’s largest brands, PRN has learned that to maximize revenue potential, great content requires great technology to deliver a great experience. Ascend is built using a modern, IP-based digital signage platform rather than a legacy broadcast system. In addition to the destination-specific content, the system is extensible in that it can serve alternative communication needs for the airport and airlines to make flight announcements or to be integrated with the mass notification and/or life safety systems. Just as relevant to the experience, Ascend generates crystal clear directional audio which delivers intelligible audio in the right locations at the right level relative to ambient noise, even muting itself when PA announcements are being made.

Perhaps the most important pillar of Ascend Media Network, adjacent to exceptional content and technology, is the hundreds of advertising partnerships that PRN has developed over 30 years, and the expertise it takes to achieve results for its brand partners. Budget allocations have evolved as digital media grows ever-present and it is the years in the trenches that have fostered a mutually beneficial advertising partnership. PRN successfully brings all three pillars together in a solution that promises to change the way passengers are entertained. What once was used to shorten the perceived time passengers had to wait for their flight, now promises to leave passengers wanting more time to engage.

To learn more about Ascend Media Network, visit

By Mark Mayfield
VP Transportation