CNN To Place Greater Emphasis On Mobile Audience

Time Warner outlet sees increasing importance of smartphones, tablets in accessing breaking news

Jeff Zucker

CNN is increasing its emphasis on consumers who get its content from mobile phones and tablets, its top executive said Wednesday, investing about $15 million so far in 2013 on reworking its digital infrastructure to make the placement of news content and advertising across different digital outlets easier. The maneuver, said Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, is aimed at grabbing new viewers who increasingly reach for the nearest screen when breaking news erupts, not necessarily the one that is part of a TV set.

“The future of CNN is as much about digital as it is about a television screen,” Zucker said at a media event. “I fervently believe mobile is a big part of our future,” he added later.

To that end, CNN intends to unveil a new digital face in November. Its system will free up editorial staff to focus on reporting the news while facilitating the posting of stories across a variety of devices and screens ranging from desktops to Androids, said KC Estenson, senior veep and g.m. at CNN Digital. The Time Warner cable network has seen more rapid growth in people accessing its content from social networks and mobile outlets and believes those figures are only going to increase –and more rapidly than TV viewership and even desktop viewing, he said. Additional interest from international audiences is also fueling some of the activity, he added.

The challenge has been great: CNN publishes news across 20 different media venues, supporting nine different editions in six different languages, he said. Staffers have had to tweak headlines, photos, stories and more to “fit” the environment to which they were being sent, he said.

In the future, CNN’s digital face is likely to have bigger photos that “anchor” a story, emphasizing the media outlet’s video roots. A different color palette will reserve the use of red for when news is urgent, rather than having it spread on the site in lighter content, he said (The color of the CNN logo, long a bright red, is not changing).

The efforts illustrate a new challenge facing TV outlets of all stripes: Just when the industry thought it got its collective mind around the havoc wrought upon it by the advent of the digital video recorder, executives are now discovering viewers want to get the content they produce in a different way. Smartphones alone are expected to be used by more than 50% of mobile phone users in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2013, according to eMarketer, a market-research firm, with Western Europe following next year.

What is more, advertisers are also starting to show greater interest in so-called “native” ads, or commercials that show up in news feeds and streams in sites designed for mobile access. In some cases, marketers are creating their own content to run alongside posts and reports from a media outlet.

In a sign of how important it will be to get content to mobile users, CNN said it was making the video feed of its U.S. broadcast available on its homepage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., the first time it was doing so on such a sustained basis (the network has made its feed available during certain urgent breaking-news events in the past, Zucker said).

Subscribers to cable, satellite or telecommunications-based distributors can “authenticate,” or provide evidence of their status as paying customers, to gain access to the audio feed. Zucker said the hours of availability were dictated in part by CNN’s contracts with its video distributors, who might frown on making too much of the network available to non-paying users