By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Like the cable network it’s affiliated with, CourtTV.com has benefited from a few high-profile trials that have piqued Americans’ morbid sense of curiosity about salacious or celebrity-driven crime. Its in-depth coverage of such high-profile events as the Robert Blake and Michael Jackson trials last year was good enough to win it the Murrow Award for best TV network Web site among dozens of entries. The site is now looking to expand its relevance with a redesign and a host of additional features.
What really put the Web site on the cyberspace map was its coverage of the Scott Peterson trial in 2003. The site went from 1 million page views per month in 1999 to 65 million per month during the height of the trial, said Galen Jones, executive VP and general manager of CourtTV.com. More recently, traffic spiked during the trial of Rachelle Waterman, the Alaskan teen who was accused of conspiring with two ex-boyfriends to have her own mother killed. A jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquitting the honor student in February.
“Usage of the site continues to be quite robust, though there’s always been a pattern that a big trial brings in additive traffic,” said Mr. Jones.
The editors of the site have strived to make it not only a daily destination for fans of trials and crimes but a resource for the legal and financial communities. The site covers a wider variety of trials than the network has time for, and in greater depth.
“There’s no inherent limitation to how many trials we can cover simultaneously,” said Mr. Jones. “We cover more civic trials that are of interest to the legal and financial communities, which has been more successful than we anticipated going in.”
A recent redesign of the site allows visitors to toggle back and forth between pages that feature news, photos, chats and videos, emphasizing the site as a stand-alone resource rather than a companion to the network. Video clips are featured prominently, although the bulk of the video is available only to CourtTV Extra subscribers. Some trials can be viewed live.
“The Waterman trial was an example of how we integrated video coverage with text reporting,” said Jim Lyons, editor in chief of CourtTV.com. “We sent a video reporter out with a print reporter and they were able to bring out different elements of the story.”
The site also makes money from its professional service (CourtTVpro.com), targeting the legal and financial community. Lawyers, legal consultants, in-house counsel and financial analysts can buy live video, real-time transcripts and DVDs of current and past trials.
Some of the new features are helping to increase stickiness, said Catherine Quayle, an editor on the site. Chats with legal experts and public responses to gripping trials on message boards increase traffic, as does “Fluorescent Justice,” CourtTV.com’s first podcast.
So far the site has relied mostly on the network’s brand to drive awareness, spending little on marketing the site as a separate entity. But this year staff members are working to increase traffic using search advertising strategies and using co-branding opportunities with the stable of sites owned by parent company Time Warner.
Editors feel the redesign has made the site of interest to more than just trial and crime junkies.
“A lot of people say they are not crime or trial buffs, but they are still interested in these trials if they are covered well. Our challenge is to get them to come and look to us for more from a CNN.com or a Gawker.com,” Ms. Quayle said.