Fans of Bill Simmons, fear not: The Ringer isn't pivoting to video anytime soon.
The sports columnist-turned-podcaster-turned-entrepreneur's website, relaunched on Tuesday, gives more prominence to The Ringer's two biggest multimedia offerings: podcasts and video.
New to the relaunched TheRinger.com is a right-hand rail full of video stories and a homepage bar containing a portfolio of podcasts from The Ringer's podcast network. Video and podcast ads generally command higher rates than traditional display advertising, so this isn't a surprise.
But if the redesign is heavy on articles, that's because writing has been a focus for Simmons everywhere he's been: At ESPN, Grantland and now The Ringer.
"Bill Simmons was a writer first, and Bill loves writing," said Sean Fennessey, editor in chief of The Ringer. "I love writing. I think podcasts and video are always going to be a core part of what we're doing, and we want those teams to grow. ... (But) we have a team full of gifted writers and we'd like to spotlight them."
The Ringer, which originally launched on Medium, joined the exodus away from the minimalist blogging platform earlier this year along with several other publishers disenchanted with Medium's decision to cut its native advertising program and stop maintaining tools for publishers.
They found a safe harbor in Vox Media, the digital media company that publishes websites including Vox.com, SB Nation, Recode and The Verge, among others. Chorus, the content management system underpinning all of Vox Media's websites, now powers The Ringer. Its various bells and whistles (article pages optimized for social sharing, custom advertising products, newsier navigation) were all upsides to the redesign, Fennessey said.
The Ringer's new site is also measured accurately by analytics providers like ComScore, Fennessey said, which is important because the site's audience data (unique pageviews and the like) was not properly counted when it was hosted on Medium because of the platform's architecture. This led to speculation that The Ringer was ditching Medium for Vox Media because its traffic was plunging. With the new site, Fennessey said, "we'll be able to correct those erroneous data numbers."
In fact, Fennessey said, May and June were the best months for The Ringer since its launch. Medium's analytics put the site at 5.54 million uniques in May and 6.58 million in June, according to internal data shared with Poynter.
Because of its high proportion of homepage traffic, getting the homepage right was important for The Ringer, Fennessey said. The new site has a dense cluster of headlines "above the fold" and a prominent, pop-up video player and the ability to anchor articles for more prominent play.
Article pages have also been reskinned, too, Fennessey said.
"Things are a lot more shareable," Fennessey said. "There's a lot more depth when you're building a story page: modifying it specifically for Facebook, modifying it specifically for Twitter, finding the right homes for the right stories. Also, being able to A/B test headlines — that's new for us."
Behind the scenes, not much will change, Fennessey said. Despite an ongoing advertising partnership with Vox Media, The Ringer will keep its own modest internal sales staff. Vox Media will sell ads for The Ringer too, but representatives from both companies declined to specify what proportion of revenue each side would keep from the deal.
The decision to partner with The Ringer was a special case based on the two companies' "mutual respect," said Mike Hadgis, head of revenue and partnerships at Vox Media. Although Vox Media would "explore other partnerships case-by-case basis," there are no additional deals in the pipeline, Hadgis said.
"This was a unique situation for us," he said. "There was a mutual friendship between The Ringer and Vox Media. We've been a fan of theirs, and, as Sean said, they've been a fan of us. We weren't talking to other publishers or other sites about opening up Chorus."
Both Hadgis and Fennessey emphasized that The Ringer — and other sites on Vox Media — will be supported by advertising for the foreseeable future. No plans are in the works to adopt a paywall or subscriptions.
"Bill has always given his podcasts away for free," Fennessey said. "Chris (Ryan) and Andy (Greenwald)'s show has always been free. If you are a Twitter user, you can watch "Talk the Thrones" for free. And I think that's been a very powerful ability to draw people and create some of that loyalty you were talking about."