Striving to more seamlessly merge its TV and online properties, CNN Thursday unveiled a revamped Web presence with a bigger emphasis on video and personalization features.
At a splashy launch event at the Time Warner Center in New York, KC Estenson, senior vice president and general manager of CNN.com, previewed the new version of the site, where users on Oct. 26 will find a more visually striking, less text-heavy home page.
The overhaul also extends to other sections of CNN.com, including entertainment, the addition of a new opinion page and a tool that lets people search the most popular stories by different categories or keywords.
CNN tapped New York-based digital design firm Huge Inc. to handle the site renovation. Earlier this month, PepsiCo awarded a chunk of its digital business for Pepsi to the firm after a recent review in which TBWA and other digital agencies, excluding R/GA, competed for the project.
Describing the company's first major redesign of the site since 2007 as "a total reimagining" of CNN.com, Estenson said the changes were driven in part from user feedback that boiled down to four main suggestions: an emphasis on breaking news, more video, perspective and analysis on the news, and a user-friendly experience.
To that end, two large video panels dominate the CNN.com home page, and the site offers a heavier dose of on-demand video and photo galleries throughout. The home page above-the-fold is split into three parts: a left rail focusing on breaking news, a wider center section geared toward feature stories, and a right-hand section where users can customize the site to get local weather, news, sports scores and stocks.
A standard banner unit, which in the demo featured a BlackBerry ad, occupies the upper right corner of the screen.
Below the fold, the home page has a cleaner look and feel, with a section grouping headlines by news category in between a horizontal video carousel of popular stories and promos for CNN TV programs on the bottom.
The redesigned entertainment section of CNN.com also features video much more prominently, and incorporates content and reporting from Time Warner sister print properties People and Entertainment Weekly.
Estensen said the redesign was patterned after the redo of its politics section in 2007, and reflected users' desire for more images and galleries of their favorite Hollywood stars and celebrities.
The new CNN Opinion page spans both text and video commentaries, with new contributors including Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of Mashable, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, and actor and comedian John Leguizamo.
Through a new partnership with TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a nonprofit that hosts a pair of high-profile annual conferences with big thinkers and influencers, the site will also feature video segements from the event weekly on the home page.
In connection with the relaunch, CNN.com has also arranged its own high-powered event -- a live online Webcast of Oprah's Book Club on Nov. 9 at 9 p.m. (EST) through a partnership of CNN and Facebook similar to streaming collaborations the companies held previously for Barack Obama's inaugural and the Michael Jackson memorial service.
Through Facebook Connect, people will be able to post comments and submit questions via their Facebook profiles while continuing to watch the Webcast.
The new CNN.com will also more fully integrate its three-year-old citizen journalism project -- iReport -- into the site, with a revamped page highlighted by a curated "mosaic" of clickable video thumbnails and tying its social media features to other CNN media platforms.
The closer embrace of iReport marks a contrast to a year ago, when the cable news network appeared to distance itself from the venture after an iReport contributor posted a fake report that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack.
To help users more easily access specific content on the site, it has also added a new tool called NewsPulse that allows people to easily look up the most popular stories and videos and search for any topic and/or keyword and sort by popularity, number of comments or time published.
On a lighter note, the site also includes a new trivia quiz called CNN Challenge "hosted" by online avatars of top CNN talent including Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and Robin Meade. As of last month, CNN.com had 38 million unique visitors, up from about 34 million a year ago.