CNN.com will on Monday (Oct. 26) unveil a major site-wide overhaul designed to make the site more visually and socially oriented, as well as content rich.
Using language such as “reimagining,” “beautiful” and “visually arresting,” CNN.com senior vp and general manager KC Estenson presented the site’s new look to reporters and advertisers during a press event held at the Time Warner Center on Thursday (Oct. 22) evening.
“This is a revolution for us,” he said. To date, CNN has been a “largely text-driven site” that in the eyes of consumers is “a machine that spits out breaking news. We challenged ourselves to change.”
Thus, the site’s new home page is divided into three columns, with breaking news relegated to the right and an oversized video player taking center stage. Video is now weaved into individual article pages in a more prominent fashion along side text; in some cases users can expand and contract video snippets as they read stories.
Why so much change to a site that has been a huge traffic success?
“It’s been a constant story of evolution,” Estenson explained in an interview. “This is a site that people love. [But the old version] reflected a different, older way of using the Internet…plus, the homepage is meant to showcase a lot of great content we had. On the old home page—everything was equal. Now, we have visual elements of different sizes for different stories…we said, ‘let’s expose out content to a wider array of people.’”
The revamped site also offers more outlets for users to participate in news stories. Nearly every page on the site provides an opportunity to add comments. Plus, in what appeared to be a challenge to the top Web portals, users can customize their CNN.com experience by adding local news, sports, weather and stock prices to the home page.
“I have to say, I think the portals are coming after us,” said Estenson later in an interview—referring to the pushes into original news content by AOL and Yahoo. “I want people to not have to go someplace else to get more.”
During the event, Estenson also previewed NewsPulse, a new search tool launching on the site in beta form which he likened to “an iTunes for news.” Via NewsPulse, users will be able to search for every piece of content on the site by topic, theme, correspondent or popularity.
“This is a unique and different way to get at thousands of stories,” said Estenson. “It’s like an iTunes for news. We’re just getting started with this.”
Besides a new look and feel, CNN.com announced a slew of new content offerings and partnerships. The site is looking to translate its recent success in hyper-covering politics to entertainment and commentary.
Estenson pointed to entertainment as a huge, somewhat untapped, opportunity for the site. He cited a recent month during which the site generated 70 million page views in its politics section and 90 million in entertainment. “Not many people think CNN equals entertainment, but our users do,” he said.
To beef up the site’s entertainment coverage, CNN.com has inked content sharing partnerships with corporate siblings Entertainment Weekly and People. The site is also planning to launch an online game show, CNN Challenge, which will feature the networks top anchors such as Anderson Cooper and Larry King challenging contestants on news trivia.
For commentary, CNN.com appears to be looking to replicate HuffingtonPost.com’s successful blend of celebrity columns and serious political news. The new CNN Opinion section will feature regular contributions from the conservative journalist David Frum and social-networking expert Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable.com, as well as the likes of actor John Leguizamo. “Not many people think of CNN for commentary. I’d like to challenge that,” said Estenson.
Lastly, CNN.com will look to recreate the megasuccess of its partnerships with Facebook during this year’s presidential inauguration and Michael Jackson’s funeral. On Nov. 9, the site will host a 90-minute Webcast during which Oprah Winfrey will discuss with fans her latest book club recommendation. During the event, Facebook users will be able to instantly log in and share their opinions on the latest book, Say You’re One of Them by Usem Akpan.
Advertising was not a major focus of CNN.com’s presentation. However, it will play an up front role in the site’s relaunch next week.
On Monday, users will encounter the old version of the site, followed by a unique homepage takeover ad from Lexus which will then pull back the “virtual curtain” on the new site.
BlackBerry will receive the same treatment on Tuesday.