What would news be like in a digital world without the legacy of newspapers or broadcast TV news shows? This was the starting point for a nearly year-long project by London-based digital agency Made By Many to turn British commercial broadcaster ITV’s ITV News website into a service providing truly "digital native news."
ITV News’ existing online service was generating far less traffic than its rivals as it was typically used for catch-up rather than catching breaking news, so the management team decided to take a risk and break with convention--creating a new service made for the web and mobile that would leave behind the newsprint-era baggage of "pages," "articles," and "editions" that most news websites have struggled to shake off.
The end result, which went live on March 19, is a marked departure from the approach of larger online news rivals--notably, the BBC, Sky News, and newspaper sites like offered by the likes of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, and Guardian.
Inspired by the immediacy of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the new ITV News site’s homepage is a live news stream.
ITV News-branded video content is center stage accompanied by tweets and online updates from correspondents and commentators. Away from the homepage each ITV News section--national, international, business, entertainment, and so on--has also been redesigned to accommodate this rolling, live-streamed approach.
Users can filter the news streams by story--another new feature. The site also links to third-party news sources offering the potential to aggregate materials to add detail to a story. With all content shareable, the site has effectively become in Made By Many’s cofounder William Owen’s words: "a huge social marketing engine."
Another important aspect of ITV News’ online overhaul is that the new website is optimized for being accessed by any device--including, moving forward, connected TVs. In coming months, the site will evolve with further developments also planned to make content more hyper-local, more personalized, and more social.
Made By Many’s starting point when pitching for the project was to present ITV News’ management team with images of all its rivals home pages on the day of the Christchurch earthquake, Owen says: "All had traditional page-based static web pages which remained unchanged for a lot of the time. All looked pretty much the same."
The opportunity to break with convention to create a website that was more about breaking news seemed clear. The question was: How? "We believed a big part of the answer lay in coverage of the Arab Spring on Aljazeera.com and by the Egyptian people’s own stories on YouTube and Twitter," Owen adds.
"So when we first began talking to ITV News head of news and sport Michael Jermey and head of online news Julian March in spring 2011, we quickly hit on a simple design strategy that played on ITV News’ strengths: Lead on a stream of real-time content that includes lots of short-form video playing directly in the stream so that whenever you come back you know there will be something new."
The Made By Many team quickly built a prototype in HTML to road-test the concept with potential end users--using customer testing throughout the development process to hone editorial and design--and ITV News staff who would need to adapt their working practices to feed it 24/7.
"ITV News’ news team of more than 300 was focused around producing polished video packages for news slots at 12.30, 6,30 and 10 p.m.," Owen explains. "We worked with them to open-source this process in a way that would add neither cost or complexity encouraging news gathers to feed raw data--notes, tweets, 'spare’ video content--to editors who would then tailor this into the stream throughout the day."
A new content management system (CMS) was introduced to facilitate this. With the existing CMS used by ITV News and most of its rivals, it took minutes to publish content online. With the new CMS, however, ITV News could publish in a matter of seconds.
"In this way the ITV News website suddenly became a truly 24/7 rolling news operation. This is a big departure as, unlike the BBC or Sky, ITV does not have a rolling TV news channel," Owen says. "As well as adding value to the end user, being 24/7 online is also useful to news correspondents on the ground overseas, as everyone they are dealing with can now easily see short-form video content of the story produced."
In the first few days following relaunch, the new ITV News website has been well-received.
"It’s not the biggest overhaul they could have done but then this is not a revenue-generating product for ITV, so what we did was the smallest thing that made the greatest sense--the kind of approach you’d more usually find with a technology startup, not a traditional media business," Owen says.
"That said, it is a real departure for ITV News and online news in general, we believe--and that in itself is a great place for ITV to be."