(click thumbnail)CNN Pipeline has four main "pipes" available on its interface.New candidates for office have high hopes for November's elections. At CNN.com, constituents also have new choices, with the news giant bulking up its Internet video offerings in expectation of a day of historic importance and record-setting demand for media.
The Web site's pay section, CNN Pipeline, is campaigning for viewers with free access to its many features the day before Election Day. CNN promises to make the site the tool of choice for viewers who want multiple video streams, on-demand archival and recent footage, user-generated content or a trove of election data from the hundreds of races around the country.
"You start combining all those elements, and the interest in this election and what it means for our country, and what it means for our economy, Iraq and so forth, I think it's going to be a huge event," said David Payne, senior vice president and general manager of CNN.com.
CNN figures that more voters than ever will watch video on the Web, and it's been phasing in special election features as the season picks up, with an eye toward a benchmark experience in the way people watch major news events. For the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, CNN also opened Pipeline to the public for free, with features including a nonstop replay of CNN's live coverage of that day.
The promotion attracted a high of 168,000 concurrent viewers, with 1.2 million users in all watching 8.5 million videos. That's up there with CBS.com's Web broadcasts of NCAA March Madness in 2006 and the Live8 concerts of summer 2005, the top two similar mass viewership events ever on the Web.
What's more, Web viewers of the Sept. 11 commemoration stayed on the site an average of 25 minutes, a figure Payne called extraordinary. "Remember, this is people at work," he said.
OPENING THE PIPES
Launched in December 2005, CNN Pipeline has four main "pipes" available on its interface, with Windows Media Player built in. The four channels typically include features such as a headline roundup plus extended live or taped footage ranging from NFL practices to international events to press conferences. There is also access to an archive of CNN clips, with easy access to the day's recent and top stories.
CNN is just one of several major media organizations trying to get on the Internet video bus before it heads off without them. ABC made episodes of some shows available last year, and News Corp.'s purchase of MySpace.com gives it a major portal for the media conglomerate's numerous assets.
"Ad-supported Web video is the future," Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff said in an April report. "ABC, recognizing a revenue opportunity, has now defined the role of streaming video in network strategy: to expand audiences beyond the regular TV schedule. The rest of the TV industry must react."
As a news organization, CNN is used to quickly shifting resources--reporters or computer servers--where they're needed when something big happens.
"From a serving standpoint, we certainly had to prepare for a high level of serving and using our servers, Akamai and LimeLite and other providers, to make sure we could sustain it."
CNN.com plans for "10-x" events, Payne said, or events with 10 times the normal traffic. Should there be another news event comparable to 9/11, Payne said, the Web infrastructure is more likely to survive the load than five years ago, when nearly all major news sites froze under the demand.
"The Internet choked on that day," he said. "So that was a wakeup call not only for the country but for people running Internet sites."
Preparations include standing up additional servers, having extra bandwidth capacity under contract for emergency purchase, and having technical teams and protocols in place for the unexpected. Should demand skyrocket, CNN.com can publish its pages in the lightest format possible, with ads stripped.
CAMPAIGN FOR VIEWERS
Among CNN's campaign news tools is the CNN Election "Express Yourself" tour, involving a bus with small crews and no correspondents, which allows ordinary voters to speak candidly to the camera.
The public-and the campaigns-will have the opportunity to get footage on CNN as well, as CNN has already begun soliciting materials, and its "I-Report" feature allows easy uploads of video files. CNN.com's broader election program, "America Votes 2006," has already begun providing information on races and several interactive elements.
In addition to quizzes and other features, a second phase of America Votes 2006 includes a "funds tracker" that allows viewers to view campaign spending state by state. The program also is adding a "Community Caucus" feature, quizzing people on issues and tracking their responses in a discussion forum.
CNN Exchange, the free interactive portion of CNN.com, is hosting blogs, soliciting political humor, and launching a blog-like political news ticker.
On Election Day, Pipeline's four channels will probably cover both Democratic and Republican camps, with ample opportunity to pipe in breaking news and the day's highlights, such as concession speeches and polling-place fireworks.
For this news event, CNN has plenty of warning, but the day will be another test run of its ability to meet a huge spike in demand for Internet video.
"On 9/11, people always tell me where they went to watch the one TV in their office," said Payne. "I think for the next big major news event, people are going to talk about where they went on the Web. Huddling around one TV in their office when everybody has a desktop computer, is just not going to happen."