The world war against terrorism has driven record traffic to online news sites, blurring the lines between media and furthering the cause of interactive television, industry experts said.
At CNN.com, the broadcast and online staffs are virtually indistinguishable now after a major push to merge the news venues, said Mitch Gelman, senior vice president and executive producer of CNN.com in Atlanta.
"We put the building blocks in place over the past six to nine months, and what happened on Sept. 11 is that everything came together around this one story," Gelman said. "The on-the-scene reports allowed the Web site to use the reporting that was coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as seamlessly and comprehensively as possible. And through the Web site, we were able to provide the TV with memory.
"Its logical to wonder how far we can be from the point where you can simply click into a second window on your TV set and call up the same application on the same box," Gelman said.
The heavy demands have also tested CNN.coms servers and routers, which have handled more than 1 million requests per minute and a flood of streaming media. The heaviest traffic came on Sept. 12, with more than 337 million page impressions. That shattered the record set by the presidential election coverage of Nov. 8, 2000, which had half as many impressions.
The events have dramatically boosted the international traffic for all Web sites, according to market research firm comScore Networks. While CNN.coms traffic more than tripled in September — to 38 million visitors worldwide — major outlets in cities directly targeted by the terrorists, such as www.nytimes.com and www.washingtonpost.com, found that site traffic more than doubled, with nearly a third of those audiences coming from outside the country, comScore reported.
With rampant rumors and unconfirmed reports circulating around the anthrax attacks, credibility has proven to be a valuable commodity, CNN.coms Gelman said.
"According to our recent survey, the reasons our users come to CNN is for credibility, timeliness, reliability and trustworthiness," Gelman said.
To boost its clout, CNN.com combines efforts with other AOL Time Warner sites — AOL, CNN Money.com, CompuServe Interactive Services, Netscape Communications and Time.com — in a regular morning news meeting to share resources.
By interacting with readers through its Web site, CNN is also able to tailor the broadcast channels to answer specific questions, Gelman said.