“CNN Digital’s goal for 2015 is to create personal & engaging mobile news experience:” Etan Horowitz

A former journalist, with experience in print, broadcast, online and mobile, Etan Horowitz is currently serving as CNN Digital senior mobile editor. Horowitz, throughout his career, has combined his love of technology with his passion for journalism.

As the editorial lead for all of CNN's mobile products, Horowitz works closely with CNN editorial teams to plan and publish news and information optimized for phones, tablets and other mobile devices. As a key member of the homepage team, Horowitz also drives awareness of mobile audience behavior through increased training and the use of analytics tools.

He works closely with the mobile product, business and design teams on setting CNN's global mobile strategy and updating CNN's mobile apps. He also oversees CNN's editorial strategy on news reading app Flipboard. During Horowitz's tenure, CNN has continued to show substantial growth in mobile.

Before CNN Digital, Horowitz worked as a digital media producer for CNN International. While there, he was responsible for producing content for TV that originated on digital or social platforms. He played an important role in the coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Arab Spring and the Royal Wedding.

In a t?te-?-t?te with, Horowitz talks about the journey of CNN apps so far, building of the mobile audience for CNN and more…


What initiatives did CNN Digital undertake to cross the 50 per cent mobile audience mark?

We had a three-part strategy focused on awareness, analytics and action. Awareness meant making sure our staffers were constantly looking at our mobile products as they did their jobs. So we made sure to put live views of our mobile website and apps on everyone’s computers as well as on big monitors throughout the newsroom. At key meetings, we made sure to always show our mobile products. We even devoted an entire week in May 2014 to raising awareness among the staff, which was a big success. 

Once we had more people looking at our mobile site and apps, we focused on analytics to get a better understanding of how our audience was consuming our journalism on mobile devices. We made sure to have the same reports for mobile that we’ve always had for desktop and we also explored mobile only analytics reports, such as data on how many people tap on a breaking news app alert from the CNN apps. A big takeaway from this exercise was that our peak usage times for our desktop and mobile sites are different. Specifically, in the United States, between noon and 1 pm ET is the biggest usage period for our desktop website, while between about 8 and 11 pm ET is the peak usage time for our mobile site. These learnings helped us to focus our staffing and efforts appropriately. 

Finally, “action” meant making sure that all of our staffers had the knowledge and skills to make changes and tweaks to our mobile platforms to ensure we were delivering the highest quality journalism to our audience. Without the awareness or analytics, this would not have been possible. When stories are commissioned or when headlines are being written, we keep the mobile audience at the top of our minds and always ask ourselves “what’s the best way to tell this story to someone reading it on a phone?"

What happened after crossing that mark and what are CNN’s ongoing investments in mobile?

Globally, we crossed the 50 per cent mark in the summer of 2014. Since we had already been preparing our staff for crossing that mark, nothing special happened once we passed it. However, passing that mark and our continued mobile growth has helped keep everyone focused on providing the best experience for our mobile users. Our executives have made mobile our top digital priority and we often share metrics and numbers to keep everyone up to date about our mobile growth. 

Is there any special strategy to create editorial content primarily aimed at mobile audiences?

The best strategy is to put yourself in the shoes of someone seeking news and information on a phone and thinking about what you would need. So mobile app push alerts are incredibly important to our strategy because they deliver important news to your pocket. This year we’ve been focusing even more on mobile-native storytelling with projects like Snapchat Discover and John Sutter’s Poor Kids of Silicon Valley interactive, both of which were designed primarily for a mobile audience. Video is a big focus for CNN and something that has been very popular with our mobile audience, so we always try to incorporate video into our mobile storytelling efforts.

Personalization is a big focus for us this year, as evidenced by our recent CNN App for Apple Watch, which lets users choose the news sections they want to see. 

Is there a special analysis to understand how CNN’s mobile consumption is different from consumption on other platforms and to implement plans based on audience patterns and habits?

Yes, as mentioned earlier, we rely heavily on audience analytics to tell us how mobile audiences consume our journalism. For instance, users of our mobile apps tend to consume more stories and videos per visit than users of our other digital platforms.

Are the mobile app push alerts a key driver when it comes to the long sustainability of apps?

Mobile app push alerts are incredibly important to our mobile strategy as they serve as a utility for users of our apps. This year we are working to improve the alerts experience to offer more control and personalization to users of our apps.

Don’t you think it is highly important to have journalists who understand the mobile platform?

Any journalist working today needs to understand the rapidly changing ways that users are accessing news and information. We work hard to make sure our staffers know how our mobile sites and apps work, how users are consuming our content on them and what the latest trends in content consumption and delivery are. 

How do mobile apps fit into your overall mobile strategy, especially when you have a responsive website?

In January of this year we re-launched as a responsive site. This was a huge improvement because it meant that all of our content was easily accessible to users on any device. Now that we have the responsive site, we are putting a lot of effort into rethinking our mobile apps to focus on being more engaging and personal. A top strategic pillar in 2015 for CNN Digital is to “create the world’s most personal and engaging mobile news experience,” and we think our mobile apps will play a big role in meeting that goal.  

What role does social media play when it comes to content creation? Is it important to have a good social media base?

Social media and mobile consumption are very closely linked together because the majority of social media consumption happens on mobile devices. So when someone taps on a link to a story on Facebook, they are often opening our mobile website because they are using Facebook on a phone. Stories that perform well for us on social media also perform well for us on our mobile sites.

We’ve recently added some features to our mobile site to further strengthen this connection. For instance, when you read a article on your phone, we now have an icon to share that story directly to the WhatsApp messaging app. 

Do you see mobile apps as the future when it comes to platforms for news gathering?

There are many examples of journalists using mobile devices today to capture news as it is breaking. CNN does a great job of placing journalists in the field around the world, and our team is often well positioned to both live report through their mobile devices and connect with others who are capturing content. We have a Social Discovery department dedicated to finding and verifying content because it can be the first window into a story.

Every news agency has a mobile app now. What is your strategy to stay ahead of the others?

CNN’s mobile apps have been downloaded tens of millions of times and are widely praised as a top app to download across devices. We are really focusing on making our apps even more personal and engaging. One recent innovation was the launch of CNNgo in our CNN App for iPad, which puts users in control of how they watch CNN TV and offers related content to the stories they are watching. Were also making a big push onto wearable devices, as evidenced by the launch of our CNN App for Apple Watch. CNN was the only news provider featured on stage by Apple as the company unveiled the Apple Watch.

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