CNN’s Zite Plans

When CNN acquired Zite, the personalizable iPad magazine application, in late August, many wondered whether Zite would become CNN’s (or parent company Turner’s) official tablet outlet. Instead, one of the first things CNN plans to do is use Zite’s technology to enhance the look and feel of CNN.com.

Zite’s nifty technology, like Flipboard and other applications, both surfaces news and social media information in an organized, customized fashion, and then presents it in a touch-screen-friendly magazine interface. According to CNN.com managing editor Meredith Artley, the company is looking to use Zite to enhance sections of CNN.com like News Pulse, which gauges and filters the most popular stories at a given moment.
“Zite will still be Zite,” said Artley. “We’re going to integrate Zite’s technology in and around CNN.com in interesting ways. We’re looking at some very cool ways to evolve News Pulse.”
Another area where Zite might be used to bolster CNN’s digital brands is in mobile, particularly its branded tablet apps. At the moment, CNN’s mobile apps are driving engagement, which, Artley said, is “off the hook.” In fact, CNN’s iPad app is seeing double the time spent of CNN.com and generating between two and three times as many page views per visit. “It just shows the different ways people use the devices,” said Artley.
Given numbers like that, CNN is likely to push even more content to the tablet arena — maybe even custom content — as the company is increasingly inclined to use audience data to guide its editorial strategy. For example, as Artley laid out during a keynote presentation on Tuesday at Digiday’s Digital Publishing Summit, the site recently revamped its look and feel on weekends, aiming to create a splashier, Sunday magazine experience. That was after discovering that while CNN.com’s traffic drops by half on weekends, time spent doubles — indicating that users are more willing to sink into stories. “Metrics can sometimes verify your gut,” said Artley. “People on weekends become a little bit more invested and engaged, so we said, ‘shouldn’t we do something about that?’”
CNN.com also recently launched a Sunday night blog franchise Ahead of the Curve after tracking a consistent weekly spike in usage as people look to catch up on news for the coming week. “That’s a beautiful example of meeting your audience where there are,” said Artley.
Another example of CNN’s audience-listening Artley noted is the site’s Open Story treatement, where news reports from journalists are melded with CNN iReports from citizen journalists for big news happenings, such as Occupy Wall Street. “Open Story is really a beta version of a new format for journalism,” Artley said. “It’s truly participatory, collaborative story telling.
Artley also said that CNN also took the unorthodox step of stealing ideas from user comments to inform stories and even serve as content on the site from time to time. “I think comments get a bad rap,” she said. “A lot of people think of them as the corner for the crazies, but they are content in their own right.”
Where else do commenters love to gather? Facebook, a place where CNN-inspired stories can take on an extended life, without allowing CNN.com much control. That’s OK with Artley.
But as for whether CNN is looking to distribute content via Facebook and actually encourage consumption on the platform, Artley had no comment. CNN was at one point rumored to be part of CNN’s fledgling “editions” strategy — aimed at getting publishers to build Facebook-centric versions of their content sites — the whole Read, Watch, Listen Facebook initiative. But so far only a handful of publishers have signed on.
Publishers know they don’t want to stifle Facebook’s branding and traffic impact but, of course, need to balance their own monetization desires.
Artley said, “I don’t think the winning strategy would be to hoard as much as you can and try to limit it to your site. Facebook has massive benefits in terms of buzz and traffic.”
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