CNN Plans ‘Complete Overhaul’ Of Digital Operation For Fall

By Alex Weprin 

CNN is planning its most significant changes to and the CNN digital platforms in more than a decade for the Fall. The channel is preparing to launch a redesigned site that not only looks different to users, but has a completely new back-end system that its editorial producers can utilize.

“People are often overwhelmed by our site, we have said it before but it sometimes seems like a machine that spits out breaking news,” CNN Digital senior VP KC Estenson said at Time Warner Center this afternoon. “It needs to stop doing that, it needs to pay off like the real human beings that are creating this stuff.”

There are a number of changes that will be obvious to users. The focus will be on photos and video (including photo and videos that are “full bleed” and take up most of the screen), and there will be much more color. In fact, the colors of the site will change throughout the day based on the news. In the morning will have softer colors, shifting to blues and grays during the day. If there is urgent breaking news–such as a bombing–the entire color scheme for the site will shift to red.


“Big Pictures and Big Headlines” is the message that CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker sent to staff, and the new site reflects that.

To help with that cause, the site will also look the same regardless of what device it is accessed on. The layout is capable of changing on the fly to best fit the device, and the top stories will stay the same. Right now, each device has a slightly different layout, and sometimes even feature different story selection. Advertisements will also be reformatted dynamically to fit the device, allowing CNN to sell ads on desktop that also work on mobile.

“Many organizations are struggling to monetize mobile,” Estenson says. “One key paradigm is to remove the friction of buying mobile.”

There will also be an added focus on authors and contributors, whether they are TV anchors or writers for the site. Bylines will be more prominent as CNN trues to make journalism stars out of its digital talent. With the company reorganization last week, the digital and television newsrooms are now one unit, better enabling the sharing of content.

The private beta of the new launches today, with a public beta in September and the new site launching in November. Today CNN debuted a live feed of CNN/U.S. on the homepage at all times on the right-hand side. The feed will be on the homepage from 7 AM-11 PM, though there is no audio. If users click through they can authenticate to their MSO, and watch CNN live on their computer.

“We are the only TV network to have a live feed on our homepage all day,” Zucker said. Deals with cable and satellite companies restrict the size of the box, the lack of sound and the hours when it is available, though Zucker has the ability to make changes if big breaking news warrants. “In terms of the internal guts and plumbing, it has been more than a decade [since a redesign], though there have obviously been design iterations over the years,” he added.

Behind the scenes, CNN is launching a new tagging system to make it easier to find content, and will be making an effort to increase social sharing, which the executives admit is far below what sites like The Huffington Post or Buzzfeed see.

The tech being introduced could also change the way users get their news digitally from CNN. If a user is following a story, like, say, Hurricane Sandy, they can select the tag and get updates on the topic pushed to their iPhone, email or social media.

“The grand vision here is that at some point we can dynamically publish the site for the individual,” Estenson says. “We are heading toward a world with more personalization, this is your CNN.”

The site responds to the device dynamically