The Onion maximises its advertising inventory by improving site performance by 50% with CDNetworks

Logo the Onion

At a glance

Company: The Onion

Founded: 1988

Headquarters: New York, USA

Industry: Media & Entertainment


CDN Services: Content Acceleration

Key results

  • Improved website download performance by 50%
  • Achieved 100% website uptime
  • Increased advertising inventory
  • Reduced provisioning of new site features from two days to two hours

Launched in 1988, TheOnion has been entertaining readers with satirical news coverage for more than two decades. Starting in 2006, TheOnion made a concerted effort to establish as its main media outlet. With heavy promotion and the 2007 launch of its online video series, site quickly grew in popularity and has transformed the company. Today, the site serves award-winning news, videos, and 40-million page views to more than 8 million unique visitors each month, making it the most popular news  organization in its class.

Thanks to its ability to continuously deliver fresh news and views in new and interesting ways, TheOnion has developed a loyal subscriber base, which plays a key role in spreading the word about ‘America’s Finest News Source.’ “Our website is a platform for our advertising partners,” says Michael Greer, TheOnion’s VP of Product. “So we have to continue to entertain our audience and provide them with the best user experience possible.”

TheOnion team recognizes that the hyper-competitive nature of the web means that media companies must continuously seek new ways to keep their audience’s attention. To maintain its strong industry leadership position, TheOnion’s marketing and IT professionals frequently collaborate to test new content ideas and site features.

The challenge

In 2006, fast growth in subscribers and site visits began to strain TheOnion’s infrastructure. As a result, its site was down a significant amount of the time. Moreover, the downtime periods were highly unpredictable. This combination of downtime and unpredictability drastically reduced TheOnion’s ability to sell ad inventory, hurting both business planning and revenue. “As an ad-supported site, downtime was having a horrible effect,” recalls Greer. He knew that his team had to quickly shore up its website delivery infrastructure or risk losing the customer loyalty – and ad revenue – it had worked so hard to build. TheOnion began leveraging the services of two content delivery networks (CDNs). The primary CDN focused on fast, reliable delivery of the site’s core content of news and reviews. The secondary CDN, CDNetworks, provided fast video-on-demand delivery along with core content delivery backup in the event of a primary CDN outage. Having two CDNs seemed like a foolproof strategy, but TheOnion experienced problems with the primary CDN. Recalls Greer, “It took up to two days to provision new services and site features through our primary CDN provider.”

Having learned a lot about CDNs and the value of advanced features and support, TheOnion evaluated its options. It still maintained its laser focus on site uptime and performance. But new insights into ancillary CDN features led TheOnion to include three other key criteria: availability of self-provisioning to streamline testing of new services and architecture; a simple UI to make administration of CDN services faster;  and frontline support from experienced site engineers to minimize downtime in the  event of a site outage.

The solution

Having already worked closely with CDNetworks as its secondary CDN provider, TheOnion IT team knew that CDNetworks could satisfy all its functional requirements. And having witnessed the CDN’s performance for whole site delivery, it decided to assign primary CDN responsibilities to CDNetworks.

Since switching to CDNetworks, TheOnion has experienced 100% website uptime and 50% performance gains, including average page download time of 75 milliseconds. “Being fast and reliable is critical, and CDNetworks helps us predictably deliver more than 30 million page views per month, which in turn allows us to increase our inventory for advertising revenue,” adds Greer. “But it’s also all the little things that make a difference. CDNetworks proactively raises potential site issues. We interface with senior engineers who are true subject matter experts. The company is constantly innovating technology and adding features. And its instant self-provisioning tool has made our lives so much easier.” In fact, CDNetworks’ tool has  reduced TheOnion’s average provisioning time from two days down to just two hours.

The results

Just as TheOnion was making the switch to CDNetworks as its sole CDN provider, it also began evaluating a major investment in expanded video offerings. “We knew that our ability to grow video offerings would depend on our confidence in CDNetworks,” says Greer. As a result of CDNetworks delivering more than two years of 100% uptime, TheOnion is now planning major additions to its site’s video lineup.  Concludes Greer,  “Partnering with a reliable CDN provider enables us to move forward with confidence.”


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