In February 2011, News Corp. launched The Daily, a tablet-only newspaper. First offered on just the iPad, though there are plans to extend it to more tablets, The Daily announced a start-up budget of $30 million, which let it hire enough journalists, designers, and technicians to create 100 pages of content per day. Integrated into The Daily are features that seem to shine on the iPad platform, such as social-media links, audio, and video. Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily, said hundreds of thousands of users have downloaded the app, but he’s not ready to reveal how many use it on a regular basis.
George Rodrigue, managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, says the iPad “may be the thing that helps people read enterprise journalism. We used to say you have to be platform agnostic. I don’t think that’s right anymore. You have to be platform specific.” But the transition isn’t cheap. “We have to build a staff for the iPad—two people plus an assignment editor,” he says. “We’re going to handcraft little stories summarizing every story—fifty-five words max. Every reporter will write the summary themselves. Every section front will be a summary of the news page.” At The Miami Herald, Raul Lopez, the interactive general manager, estimates the paper’s total digital page views to be 30 million per month; about 2 million are mobile, and half of those are via the iPhone.
Meanwhile, video has become an essential element of the digital experience. According to comScore, about 89 million people in the U.S. watched at least one online video, or video advertisement, daily by the end of 2010.
For journalism sites, broadband access has made video distribution more feasible. But persuading users to watch news video isn’t easy. Online video journalism is becoming a world of haves and have-nots. Among the haves, CNN.com reigns supreme.
“In any given month, well over half our unique visitors watch video,” says K.C. Estenson, senior vice president and general manager of CNN.com. “The percentage has gone up every year.” When CNN.com redesigned its site in 2009, the network “anchored it on video,” Estenson says. It isn’t unusual for the website to have fifteen or more video links on its home page, including at least three or four in high-profile featured positions.
CNN.com is different than other video-rich sites because of the size and expectations of its audience. The company says it delivers between 60 million and 100 million video streams a month. In contrast to local-broadcast competitors, CNN.com can match the costs of substantial technology and editorial costs with a massive audience. “If you do not have scale, you do not have a business,” says Estenson. CNN.com has also launched a free iPad application in which video is integrated into text. And CNN is hungry for more viewers. Estenson says CNN can sell “almost every single video impression we create. So we would like more video consumption.”
CNN has brought its broadcast expertise onto the web. “We program by times of day,” says Estenson. “The bell curve of visitors to our site peaks between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on regular news days. We’ve noticed that social media links go up a lot at night.” Sometimes CNN makes programming decisions based on a mix of demographic and editorial priorities. Estenson notes that users under the age of twenty-five, who “are disproportionately on social media,” tend to be more interested in entertainment and features rather than in hard news. So while “CNN is all about trust and reliability,” Estenson says, “for CNN.com, entertainment is one of the biggest sections of the site.”
Estenson sees contrasts between the content on CNN’s cable channel and CNN.com. Online, producers have more freedom to experiment and expand, and the content can be more daring. “Going online is a private experience, versus watching in the living room. When people are online, they seem to gravitate to things that are more provocative than they would if they were in a room with their friends.”
How profitable is CNN online? According to a presentation the network made to analysts in mid-2010, revenue for CNN overall (consisting of the U.S. and international divisions, Headline News, and digital) was about $500 million; digital advertising and content sales accounted for about 10 percent of total revenue. CNN.com’s profit margin isn’t broken out publicly by either its division, Turner Broadcasting System Inc., or by the parent company, Time Warner Inc. Estenson does say the digital operations have been profitable for the last seven years—even including corporate costs and just under 100 “dedicated digital” people on the editorial side. All of CNN benefits from a centralized publishing platform; sales and administrative expenses are spread across the three television divisions and their online properties.