CNN introduced a redesign of its web site on Wednesday that's intended to unify the consumer experience across various screens and to simplify the buying of advertising on mobile devices.
"There's so much focus on TV and ratings… but the future of CNN is as much about digital as it is about TV, maybe more," CNN President Jeff Zucker said at an event for press. "In the long run we won't care where people get news as long as it's from CNN, not necessarily on the TV screen."
"For a long time we looked at this as a TV network with a really big web site attached," said KC Estenson, senior VP and general manager of digital at the network.
Consumers' rapid increase in mobile media consumption was a key motivation for the redesign, according to Mr. Estenson. Nearly 40% of traffic on CNN.com comes from a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, but the network hasn't had the infrastructure in place to take advantage, he said.
CNN spent $15 million this year rebuilding the "back end" of its website, Mr. Estenson added.
The consumer-facing front end is also getting a different look and feel. The homepage will lead with a major story that is image driven, with a photo stretching the full width of the screen. The colors of the site will also vary based on the type of news, reserving its signature red color for breaking news.
"Right now the site feels like a machine that spits out breaking news," Mr. Estenson said, noting that people often feel overwhelmed by the layout and design.
And where CNN.com has been inconsistent for desktop users and mobile users, with articles and story order varying from one device to the next, the new site uses responsive design to provide a consistent experience across screens. That will let it serve the same ad across platforms as well.
The new site, currently in private beta, will enter a public beta period next month and go live worldwide in November.
Mr. Zucker said he has challenged the ad sales team to make digital a bigger part of their pitches to advertisers. CNN is using Nielsen Fusion measurement for guarantees.
CNN also wants to keep TV front and center, even online. The company has begun incorporating a live feed of the cable news network on the right side of its homepage from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. ET. Audio for the feed will not be available until a viewer authenticates using their cable or satellite subscription.
Mr. Zucker said the tactic is meant to give readers an invitation to watch the cable network but also perhaps to create more ad inventory for streaming video.
While Mr. Estenson declined to break out digital revenue for CNN, he noted that digital media has been a profitable business for over a decade, with a mandate to drive innovation rather than be a cash cow.