Putting Digital Into EverythingJoe Ruffolo leads the charge to expand ABC News’ online election coverage 9/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
This fall, political incumbents and challengers won’t
be the only ones facing a referendum on their future.
Broadcast news organizations will be offering unprecedented
levels of election coverage on digital platforms
as part of their battle to show that traditional
media hasn’t lost touch with the average viewer.
That fight makes Joe Ruffolo’s moves
to dramatically expand ABC News’
digital operations particularly noteworthy,
both as a tactic for increasing
ABC’s overall audience and as a test
case in digital news strategies.
“We want to put digital into everything
we do,” says ABC News president
Ben Sherwood. Sherwood hired Ruffolo
as the division’s top digital executive
in April 2011, believing Ruffolo’s
15 years of experience in digital media
at CNN, AOL and MTV Networks
would bring a very different, digital
mindset into the organization.
“Given his background, I thought he
would be a terrific leader to come into
a traditional, old-media organization
which had always had a digital operation
bolted onto it and be able to work
through the barriers and obstacles to
integrating a digital operation into a
broadcast operation,” Sherwood says.
Since taking charge, Ruffolo has expanded
the reach of ABC News’ content
by cutting deals with Google’s You-
Tube and Yahoo News. YouTube will
make ABC News part of its Election
Hub Channel and provide a live
stream of ABC’s coverage of the presidential
and vice presidential debates.
With the Yahoo News partnership
launched last fall, ABC News became
the premier news provider for Yahoo
News. The two organizations agreed to
work together to produce and market
original content across all of their sites,
which reach a combined 90 million
unique visitors per month. Their five
coproduced Web programs have been
watched more than 100 million times.
ABC News is betting that wider online
exposure will also boost its on-air ratings.
“If we can get only 1% of the [90
million] users of Yahoo News to tune in
to one of our ABC News programs, that
is the difference between victory and
defeat in each of the competitions we
are in,” Sherwood says.
During the conventions, ABC News
and Yahoo streamed 4½ hours of nightly
coverage. “You will see a lot more
live streaming” during the election
cycle, Ruffolo says. Expanded social
media partnerships, ramped-up efforts
to create digital-only content and a
much more user-focused approach to
digital news will also be key parts of
the mix, Ruffolo adds.
Many of these priorities reflect Ruffolo’s
long experience in the news and digital
Ruffolo says he had always been interested
in media and entertainment,
but was majoring in political science
and pre-med in college when he became
an intern at CNN. “It really was a
wonderful summer that convinced me
to break the news to my parents that I
wasn’t going to become a lawyer or a
doctor,” he recalls with a laugh.
After graduation, Ruffolo returned
to CNN full-time, working in strategic
planning. Then he cut his teeth in
the early days of online news media,
working with a small team at CNN Interactive
before returning to school for
Ruffolo then spent five years at AOL,
playing an important role in setting up
international joint ventures and business
development. After spending two
years at MTV Networks, where he was
involved in business development for
Nickelodeon and worked on some of
the network’s early digital distribution
deals, he returned to AOL.
Ruffolo’s extensive digital experience
has taught him both the importance of
partnerships, such as the Yahoo deal,
and a relentless focus on the user. “The
part of digital media that has always
been the most exciting to me has always
been the focus on the individual and
how we have to inform and entertain
one person at a time,” he says.
He also remains extremely confident
about ABC News’ ability to make the
difficult transition to a world-class digital
news organization. “There is really
an opening for new people and new
brands to come in and lead the marketplace,
and I think we are in an amazing
position to do that,” Ruffolo says.