CNN and MSNBC Battle Yahoo News for Top News Site

According to Nielsen Online, the CNN Digital Network and MSNBC Digital Network both topped Yahoo News as the top online current events and global news destinations for March 2008. The CNN Digital Network topped Yahoo News for the first time back in November 2007. Then Yahoo News recaptured its #1 position in December 2007 and January 2008, only to lose it again to the CNN Digital Network in February.

The battle for news site supremacy is a big story – similar to the newspaper war between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the 1890s. But, I found it buried in some “data samples” that Nielsen Online put in its press kit, which it left in the press and blogger room at ad:tech San Francisco last week.

The first shot in the battle was fired back on December 13, 2007, when TimeWarner issued a press release announcing, “CNN Digital Network Attracts Largest Audience in 11-Year History.” The press release said, “The CNN Digital Network has attracted more than 30 million unique users for the last four months, with its largest audience of 32.8 million unique users coming in November. For the month, Yahoo News had 30.9 million unique users and the MSNBC Digital Network had 29.8 million unique users, according to Nielsen.”

TimeWarner said that had surged to become the leading Internet site for news and information following the unveiling last July of “an intuitive, integrated Web site that puts users within a click of the global, national and local news and information they find most relevant to them. This major overhaul featuring new and innovative story-telling paradigms and live and on-demand video free of charge has lured more and more dedicated users.”

But, Yahoo News battled back to regain its position as the top news site in December 2007, with a unique audience of 35.4 million, compared to 33.1 million for the CNN Digital Network and for the MSNBC Digital Network. In January 2008, Yahoo News was #1 again, with a unique audience of 36.1 million, followed by the CNN Digital Network at 35.6 million and the MSNBC Digital Network at 35.4 million.

In February 2008, the CNN Digital Network surged back into the #1 spot again with a unique audience of 37.2 million, followed by Yahoo News with 35.3 million, and the MSNBC Digital Network with 34.0 million. In March 2008, the CNN Digital Network was #1 again with a unique audience of 37.2 million, followed by the MSNBC Digital Network with 36.6 million, and Yahoo News with 32.6 million.

I stumbled across this story at ad:tech San Francisco among the “data samples” in the Nielsen Online press kit. If similar information had been discovered during the newspaper war between Pulitzer and Hearst back in the “yellow journalism” era, it would have been splashed across the front page in banner headlines.

But, after its first press release on December 13, TimeWarner hasn’t publicized that the latest metrics show CNN Digital Network is back on top again. And, Yahoo seems more interested in promoting “an agreement that designates 13 of Belo’s television stations as the exclusive provider of local news video to Yahoo News in their respective markets.”

So, what’s going on?

In the fog of war, it’s hard to know.

But Google News has been busy integrating high quality videos into its news stories since August 21, 2007. And I’ve discovered at least one war correspondent, who is covering this latest battle without fear or favor. It’s Ken Doctor of Outsell.

On January 17, 2008, Ken reported that “Yahoo News and the CNN Digital Network are dueling it out to be the top news site in the US.” He also said the battle underscored “the ascendancy of news video in 2008. It’s real, it’s mainstream and it’s starting to produce real traffic and real money – about a half billion dollars in the US, on a 40% growth trajectory.”

Meanwhile, if you look at Nielsen Online’s data for the top news sites for March 2008, which is posted on, you’ll see that Google News is now ranked #9 with a unique audience of 11.5 million. In July 2007, Google News ranked #13 with a unique audience of less than 9.0 million.

So, the CNN Digital Network, MSNBC Digital Network and Yahoo News should head the advice of Captain John Paul Jones: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization and public relations firm. He covers news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog. Greg is one of the 25 successful online marketing gurus interviewed by Michael Miller for the new book, Online Marketing Heroes.

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