Net Effect: CNN record tightens online race

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The title of most-visited online news site continues to be a hotly contested, with CNN, Yahoo News and MSNBC all vying for the throne.

Last month, the CNN Digital Network had the largest unique audience in its 11-year history, according to Nielsen Online. The Time Warner-owned news source received nearly 33 million unique visitors, beating out Yahoo News and the MSNBC Digital Network, which had about 31 million and 30 million visitors, respectively.

David Payne, senior vp and GM of CNN.com, noted that these numbers came during what was a slow news month. He also pointed out that the Thanksgiving holiday kept some visitors off the site.

The ComScore numbers, though, tell a different story. Yahoo News clocks in at about 35 million visitors, ahead of MSNBC (about 27 million) and CNN (almost 26 million).

A further point of contention is that both Nielsen and ComScore count the online homes of CNN Money, Time and Sports Illustrated among the CNN numbers. Nielsen's numbers also include select Internet Broadcasting System sites in CNN's data, which, through an equity deal signed earlier this year, syndicates local news stories through CNN.com and CNN stories through the local news sites.

Yahoo News remains broken out separately from its Sports and Finance sections. ComScore said the unique audience for all three of these sites, not counting duplicates, was nearly 49 million visitors in November.

Along with MSNBC.com, the MSNBC Digital Network includes the Web sites for Newsweek, NBC's "Today," weather.msn.com and other sites.

There are other significant differences between these sites as well.

Yahoo News mostly is an aggregator of news sources, and its page also is connected to a major portal with an average of more than 108 million visitors per month this year. MSNBC, though it produces a large amount of original content, also has its headlines linked through the MSN portal, which averaged 96 million visitors last month.

Payne pointed out that more than 90% of visitors to his site come to CNN directly. Its parent company also owns AOL, but that portal has its own news site, which ranked fourth in November with 20 million visitors.

Catherine Captain, vp marketing at MSNBC.com, said her company is more focused on long-term growth than monthly numbers. She said MSNBC has grown more than 10% year-over-year, according to both ComScore and Nielsen.

Nielsen Online is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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