CNN.com Gets More Social for Relaunch

CNN.com on Monday unveils a major overhaul designed to make the site more visual, socially oriented and content rich.

Using language such as “reiminaging” “beautiful” and “visually arresting,” CNN.com svp and general manager K.C. Estenson presented the new look to reporters and advertisers during a press event held at Time Warner Center on Thursday night.

“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,” he said.

Thus, the 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. In some cases, users can expand and contract video snippets as they read stories. (See also: “CNN Bows Paid iPhone App for Live Video News Feeds.”)

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 with Mediaweek. “This is a site that people love. [But the old version] reflected a different, older way of using the Internet…plus, the home page 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 our content to a wider array of people.’”

The revamped site also offers more outlets for users to participate in news stories. Nearly every page provides opportunities to add comments. Plus, in what appears to be a challenge to the top Web portals, users can customize their CNN.com experiences 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,” Estenson told Mediaweek — 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 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 unveiled a slew of new content offerings and partnerships.

The site is looking to translate its recent success in politics to entertainment and commentary. Estenson pointed to entertainment as a huge, somewhat untapped opportunity. He noted 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 entertainment coverage, CNN.com has inked content 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 network’s 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’s successful blend of celebrity columns and serious political news. The new CNN Opinion section will feature contributions from conservative journalist David Frum and social networking expert Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, as well as actor John Leguizamo. “Not many people think of CNN for commentary. I’d like to challenge that,” said Estenson.