CNN’s Remodeled Digital Platform Looks Really Expensive

Site now includes live network stream

You can watch CNN on as of this morning. It's in a little window in a corner of the site, running live from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and over the next few months, it's one of the few things about CNN's digital presence that won't change.

CNN head of digital KC Estenson told reporters at a press conference this afternoon that the proliferation of Web-ready devices "has taxed our system incredibly—as soon as something springs up, it gets shut down. The Nook, for example, is just starting to gain traction."

President of CNN Worldwide Jeff Zucker, in a rare personal appearance, emphasized the importance of the network's digital properties: "This is as important a priority as anything that's going on in the company," he said.

In line with that dedication to digital, CNN is rolling out a major overhaul of its website, which will employ responsive design—meaning the site's layout will automatically adjust to fit the screen of any device a reader happens to be using. 

A look at how the new website—and your ad—scales


To the uninitiated, new functions on the beta version of the site may not look like difficult tricks, but trust those of us who work in Web publishing: this stuff is very hard, especially on a property as large as CNN: drag the corner of the window and the page scales up to fill your screen, or down to a tablet or smartphone size, reorganizing content on the fly, even as video is playing. It's a ton of code, all built in-house by CNN's digital team.

Beyond the layout changes, the site is also getting a new style guide, with a color scheme that changes depending on the tenor of the news being reported at any given moment. In general, the signature CNN red will be deemphasized on the site, save for the company's logo. A public beta version of the redesigned site is set to go live on Sept. 30 with the full relaunch expected sometime in November.

Zucker said that affiliate agreements regulated the size of the livestreaming window (if you click on the link above, you'll see that it's quite small), but also that CNN would have the ability to extend streaming hours in the event of breaking news. "We use it sparingly because those contracts are pretty clear as to what's defined as breaking news," Zucker said.

CNN is easily the most-followed news brand on Twitter, but it's well below all of its cable news peers and news orgs abroad (notably the BBC and the Guardian, which rank near the top) when it comes to re-tweeted stories. "I fervently believe that mobile is our future, or a huge part of our future, and what I've challenged not just this team but our ad sales team to do is make the transition that much easier," said Zucker.

Estenson shared that 40 percent of CNN's traffic comes from mobile devices. "It'll be as big as desktop before we know it," he said.

To that end, the ad sales folks will be selling takeovers that scale right along with the site's content, as well as native advertising. It's a clear bid to push up the price of digital ads—something every cable network is looking to for revenue growth.

There's also no longer a corporate divide between the digital and linear newsrooms, Zucker said. "Last week we reorganized so that we have newsgathering under digital editorial," he told reporters. "Part of the idea when we reorganized television and digital editorial together was—well, it's obviously the way the editorial division needs to function. But it's also that digital editorial wins on that [combination]. It's now in the [division] that has historically had the biggest share of the budget."