The pivot to authentication: Inside Fox News’ first site redesign in 5 years
As digital publishers scramble to put more video on their sites, broadcasters are busy figuring out how to get their visitors to log in.
On Monday, Fox News is expected to unveil an overhauled version of its website, its first major redesign in over five years. The revamp is designed to push more notifications of live and breaking video news to readers, and above all, get visitors to log in to the site using their cable TV credentials.
Rather than trying to maximize pre-roll advertising or build a social audience that can be targeted with branded video content, Fox News wants to encourage these logins so it can build a stronger picture of its audience across television and digital.
“We want to motivate people to authenticate,” said John Fiedler, Fox News’ svp of digital. “We’re going to make a strong push, starting with this design, to get people to register.”
The last time Fox News overhauled its website was in 2012, or roughly 7,000 years ago in internet time. Since then, video has become critically important to media companies, with some publishers, including its sister company Fox Sports, essentially turning their homepages into big walls of video.
Fox News has embraced digital video, too. Fiedler, who said editors are encouraged to put clips from Fox News broadcasts into as many stories as possible, added that the redesign makes video more of a “first-class citizen” on its site. But its priorities are slightly different. Cable broadcasters like ESPN and CNN have tried to figure out how to get their readers to log in with their cable credentials, which would allow the companies to target their audiences across devices.
“You can get to know a lot about a logged-in user,” Fiedler said.
To nudge people in that direction, the new version of Fox News’ homepage has dedicated space in the top left corner to a live feed from Fox News’ cable broadcast. It will also use a redesigned notification banner to notify visitors when something notable is happening in real time on the channel; if a visitor clicks on that link and is sent to a stream, she will be asked to log in. In some instances, Fiedler said, it will also use that notification bar to push people to live footage licensed from third parties, which will not require a login to view.
Redesigning homepages is always risky. But for Fox News, the stakes are especially high. While the site’s traffic is healthy — it welcomed over 82 million unique users in July, according to comScore — nearly half of its monthly visitors head to the homepage directly, according to Fiedler. They also spend a lot of time on the site; the average site visit to FoxNews.com lasts over six minutes, according to SimilarWeb estimates.
To gauge the reaction of those regulars to the redesign, Fox News invited small pockets of site readers — six percent of the monthly audience, per Fiedler — to check it out on an opt-in basis. Fiedler said scroll depth, time spent and clicks were watched especially closely, and that the new design either maintained the current performance levels, or improved them.
One trendy thing Fox News didn’t focus on in its redesign: personalization. While some publishers are experimenting with personalization, particularly among logged-in users, Fiedler still regards personalization with skepticism. “I’m not officially sold on how much that technology can truly predict what somebody wants to consume,” he said. “Just because you’re reading an entertainment article doesn’t mean you want to keep reading entertainment articles. We defer to our editorial teams.”
It also didn’t put much emphasis on making the site more oriented toward sharing its content on third party platforms. While Fox News has amassed a fiercely engaged audience on platforms including Instagram, Fiedler said he’d rather encourage people to comment and spend more time on the site itself. “We want to encourage as much conversation as possible around our content,” he said. “Hopefully, that community lives on Fox News.”
Update: An earlier version of this story said Fox News’s redesign will be unveiled Friday.
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