How CNN Made a Cisco-Sponsored Web Series About Progressive Cities

It includes both editorial and branded content

During CNN's 2014 Upfronts, president Jeff Zucker vowed that the network would be focusing on its digital presence and creating new opportunities for advertisers.

Three months later, the net's Web-first production company, CNN Digital Studios, is working with Cisco to present City of Tomorrow, a 10-part online series that explores ways different cities are trying to improve their citizens' lives. A 30-minute special, also called City of Tomorrow, will air on CNN on July 19.

"Within our CNN Digital Studios, we have an opportunity to build premium content, and we have that big television network to amplify it. The beauty of the Cisco partnership is that we can go across our various platforms to highlight the stuff coming out of our digital studios group," said Katrina Cukaj, evp of ad sales at CNN.

Cukaj said having a digital-first arm facilitates innovative brand assimilation, particularly customized campaigns that fit with editorial content. She added that the high quality of the digital outlet's productions lent itself to making deals with brands.

For example, Cisco is the sponsor of the entire project, which was developed by CNN Digital Studio's editorial team. In addition, the technology company has a branded episode on Barcelona, where it happens to have a large presence.

Cukaj said that while a separate branded content team created that episode and it's labeled sponsored content, it was important for CNN Digital Studios to weave it in seamlessly with the rest of the editorial material. "The goal for out team is marrying it as close as possible and trying to create as native of an experience as we possibly can," she explained.

CNN Digital Studios has other works in the pipeline, including Be a Champion with former NFL player Dhani Jones and Related with Dave Franco. Sponsors have yet to be named for those  projects.

"The advertising marketplace is really craving this premium content. We've seen a lot more projects come our way with our clients since we've launched this group," Cukaj said.

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