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Fox Maps Web Strategy

Mar 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Fox News Channel may be the dominant all-news cable channel in the ratings, but its Web site attracts only a quarter of the number of visitors that rival CNN.com draws.
To close that gap, Foxnews.com has been steadily introducing new content and upgrading its site over the past few months, and Fox News is now using its brand’s strength in political coverage and the current political campaign season as a springboard to launch a new Web strategy.
“Ultimately, we’d like to be the No. 1 site in terms of unique visitors,” said Bert Solivan, general manager for the Web site and VP, news information, for Fox News Channel.
Toppling CNN will be a daunting task, said Greg Bloom, senior analyst with Nielsen//NetRatings. “The difference between CNN and Fox is pretty enormous,” he said. “CNN just has a really strong brand.” CNN declined to comment for this story.
In January Foxnews.com drew 5.4 million unique visitors, compared with CNN.com’s robust 23.5 million tally, according to Nielsen//NetRatings data.
Mr. Solivan expects to add about 1 million unique visitors this year. He also said the site should become profitable for the first time this year, thanks to a doubling of ad revenue.
That growth has been driven by new features.
In January the site introduced a section dedicated to coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign called “You Decide 2004.” It includes regular reports from Fox News Channel’s chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron, campaign news, interactive election guides, daily streaming video clips and slide shows with audio. The election guide includes details on all of the national races and an analysis of campaign ads, and allows users to cross-reference candidates according to different issues.
The Web site also launched a Baghdad Web cam that streams live video from Firdos Square, the site that was home to a Saddam Hussein statue that was famously toppled last spring.
Another new feature is “Only on Fox,” a section on the home page that takes users to stories and topics unique to Fox, Mr. Solivan said.
The revamped Fox News Access section serves as a hub for online video and contains about 40 to 50 new clips a day. Mr. Solivan said about 200,000 to 250,000 users view video clips daily at the Fox News site.
In mid-February the site added the “Greta Poll,” which includes topical questions posed by Fox host Greta Van Susteren. She incorporates the responses in her show “On the Record” later that same day. In the first week the poll generated about 100,000 to 120,000 responses daily.
That sort of push-and-pull between the Web and its television sibling will be a key factor in growing visibility and usage of the Web site, said Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research. “They have to encourage people to take that first step to come online,” she said.
On-air hosts regularly urge viewers to go online for more information, such as court documents from the Scott Peterson trial, stories dealing with Iraq or important speeches.
“With all that being said, we do not tell viewers to go to Foxnews.com just for the sake of it. We will point them to the site when we have something noteworthy and vital to add to the story,” Mr. Solivan said.
Likewise, the site needs to keep viewers coming back, Ms. Li said.
One way Foxnews.com is doing that is through Fox Fan Central, a link on the top right corner of the main Web page. Fox Fan Central includes behind-the-scenes interviews of on-air talent, exclusive interviews not seen on the channel, Fox News Alerts and other content for the hard-core fan.
The site has been averaging 4.5 million unique visitors and about 120 million page views every month for the past six months. That contrasts sharply with 2.9 million unique visitors and 85 million page views in January 2003, Mr. Solivan said.
The traffic increase has helped the site attract new advertisers. Chrysler is the official sponsor of “You Decide 2004,” while SBC sponsors the Fox News Access video section. Ad revenue is tracking about 100 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year, pushing the site toward likely profitability when the fiscal year ends in July, Mr. Solivan said.