CNN Digital’s 2017 Plans Include App Reboot, More Brian Stelter and K-File

A “sleek, modern” CNN mobile app is expected to launch in February

CNN Digital’s New Year’s resolutions include upgrading its app and giving much better platforms to two of its stars, media correspondent Brian Stelter and former Buzzfeed investigator Andrew Kaczynski.

After a successful year online in 2016, CNN Digital executive vice president Andrew Morse laid out plans for more of the same in 2016.

“It’s a sign that you know you set the right strategy because you don’t have to change course,” he told TheWrap.

CNN’s 105 million average monthly unique visitors beat rivals such as Yahoo (94 million), the New York Times (84 million) and the Huffington Post (80 million). CNN has now been the No. 1 digital video news source for 19 consecutive months, with an average of 287 million video starts per month during 2016.

While Fox News dominates cable news ratings, CNN rules on the digital side, topping Fox News’ average video starts per month by more than 100 million.

Still, Morse said his staff is “never satisfied” and will “really push” mobile in 2017 — starting with a “really significant reboot” of the CNN mobile app next month.

Morse said the upcoming “sleek, modern” app will focus on three things: allowing users to dive deep into immediate breaking news, offer a jumping-off point into the company’s entire video experience, and providing a launch point for premium businesses such as CNN Politics and CNN Money.

Among mobile users in 2016, CNN averaged 76 million multi-platform unique visitors, compared to 69 million for Yahoo, 66 million for the Times, 65 million for HuffPost and 63 million for BuzzFeed. In November, users streamed 594 million minutes of CNN content, including a record 2.3 million concurrent views on Election Night.

“CNN is everywhere,” Morse said. “We are not just a TV network with a website. We’re the largest digital news network that there is.”

CNN Politics had 39.4 million visitors compared to 18 million for Politico in 2016. Turner pumped $20 million into CNN Digital last year, a move that helped the company generate close to $300 million in revenue in 2016 for its digital properties alone.

“We built a really significant business that has multiple sources of revenue, and that’s built to last. It’s not tied to any particular news cycle at all. The incredible audience interest in the presidential election certainly helped, but our traffic and our record performance last year was not wholly dependent on the election cycle,” Morse said. “Our digital performance was actually less dependent on politics than our TV traffic was.”

A new K-File destination online will highlight the work of Kaczynski and his team. CNN snatched him from Buzzfeed during the election after a series of scoops, many of which were built around old interviews of Trump that Kaczynski meticulously unearthed.

A redesigned CNN Media destination will highlight the work of senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, whose “Reliable Sources” newsletter has become a must-read daily briefing for news addicts.

“It has been widely successful, the main reason why is the author. Brian has done a tremendous job. He has an incredible metabolism for news,” Morse said before crediting the entire media staff. “It’s a really finely tuned machine. If you’re in the media industry, you’re reading the newsletter.”

Morse is also looking to add to the digital team, which added nearly 50 new reporters to beef up for last year’s election.

“We’re going to add to that team. At the time, we said what we were doing was not building a political team for a cycle. We were building a sustainable business,” Morse said. “We built CNN Digital Politics which has been far and away the No. 1 digital political destination. We didn’t build it to just cover more politics, or cover the 2016 race. We built it because we believe there is an opportunity to build a full 360 politics business. The folks that we hired have built the foundation of a truly great business.”