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CNN redesigns Arabic website
Peter Bale, vice-president and general manager of CNN Digital International, talks to Kipp’s sister publication, Sanaou El Hadath, about the re-launch of CNNArabic.com
January 22, 2014 4:53 by Maha El Gazzar
What was the reason behind redesigning the website?
This has been a project in the works for the past year or so. It is incredibly important for us to address the growth of mobile in this market. This is a very wealthy and young market, and there are very interesting demographics happening in the region. It is an important region to us and we have been investing here for many years; we also have a lot of customers here from a commercial and advertising point of view. This is really an extension to the commitment we made to CNN Arabic 12 years ago, and it was a good time to launch a new one. Additionally, because it is a new site, we have been able to experiment in a way that might have been difficult in other markets.
Can you share with us any traffic figures you received since the re-launch, especially the number of unique visitors?
I can’t share any numbers yet, but I will say that I was struck immediately by how quick people were in sharing our articles within ten minutes of the launch. We saw dozens of people sharing on Twitter, while hundreds of people were sharing on Facebook. Also, we discovered that people are scrolling down a long way on the site; we can look at the percentage of people doing that and it’s already higher than it was before the launch.
The site invites this and encourages the consumption of more stories by scrolling.
We don’t disclose detailed user figures in this region, but, so far, the reception has been very positive. Often with new sites you tend to find users missing the old design simply because they are more familiar with it, but our new layout is very user friendly and similar to other networks, so it’s very easy to use.
Why did you decide to launch the website at midnight?
It is a relatively quite time. You don’t want to launch during the busiest time of the day and we are still in a phase where websites are incredibly complex. There are a lot of hidden and moving parts, and thousands of people and connections working on it – whether it is the Facebook share box, video or photos. There is also a huge connection with our colleagues in Atlanta as well, so they worked throughout Sunday [the day of the launch] to get to this point.
What do you think other Arabic news websites lack in the region? Can they compete globally?
I look at the region a lot, and you have a lot of innovation here and we have to respect our competitors. There is a lot of dynamism in the Arab media sector; therefore, we have to do our best to be competitive.
As of today, many Arabic new websites have the chance to compete at an international level.
I hope that CNN Arabic is the most modern and sophisticated website for this region. We have designed a website that is fully dedicated to the Arabic-speaking population – this is not an English website translated into Arabic.
Do you see digital taking over traditional media (TV) in the Mena region?
There is a global trend of people watching television on many devices, so television and video can be consumed now wherever you are. Television is continuously being consumed away from Television sets. People are also using digital devices while watching television.
However, it is unlikely that you will be watching our channel and using our website at the same time; chances are you are watching someone else’s channel, while browsing our website or vice versa.
It is important that we tie these platforms together, but not necessarily taking over one another.
How do you see the future of Arab media?
I keep meeting energetic, intelligent and exciting people, who are doing really courageous things in the Arab media – launching technology, business and entertainment startups. You only have to look here, where some of our competitors are doing some interesting things, like [publishing house] Brownbook.
The future is incredibly bright for Arab media.