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Food52’s Recipe For Success: Mixing Content, Commerce, and Advertising

Food52 - Amanda HesserFrom the start, foodie site Food52 planned to have two revenue streams: advertising and commerce. Today, commerce drives two-thirds of its revenue, with advertising accounting for the other third.

The site now averages four million unique monthly visitors. After building up content, 98% of which is contributed by readers, Food52 had the audience to add an e-commerce arm. That section, Provisions, went live in August of 2013. That same year, the publisher began selling advertising directly.

The site doesn’t write content that it think will drive sales; instead, it looks for natural fits between the content and products. Below most stories, there is a recommendations module with two links to related content and two links to related products.

“You might come to Food52 for advice on grilling steak, but you might also need a rub for that steak, or a cutting broad, or steak knives to serve it with,” said CEO and co-founder Amanda Hesser. “Those things have been separated from the helpful content. We brought together everything you need and created one place for it.”

The site’s approach is working: 40% of commerce conversions come from a piece of content.

The rest of those sales come from more traditional channels: social, email, affiliate programs, and paid social or search. One and a half million people subscribe to Food52 emails. Affiliates – often smaller food, cooking, and lifestyle sites – together form a network that extends the same principles of marrying content and commerce.

Food52 found its commerce focus put it on the same page with its advertisers.

“Because we have commerce as a big part our brand, we have proof that we can activate our audience. It gives us a huge advantage in the relationship building for advertisers and proof that we understand our audience,” Hesser said.

E-commerce businesses are known for their clean data and easy attribution from ads to sale. Food52 is working on organizing and applying its data for use internally and on behalf of advertisers.

Its entry point into understanding its users better is Collections, a Pinterest-like service that allows users to collect and file their favorite online items. One of Hesser’s collections, “Cocktail Hour,” features a mix of recipes and products, such as whimsical drink stirrers. (more…)

The Next Web Sells Drones (And Other Things) To Merge Commerce and Advertising

TNW dealsNot every publisher sees selling drones as a natural extension of its business.

But converting readers into customers is the next goal for The Next Web, an online tech magazine that has 6.6 million unique monthly visitors.

For the past three months, the company has been using StackCommerce to power its e-commerce store, called TNW Deals, which features a huge variety of products, including drones, mobile chargers, and boxed sets of whiskey. In other words: “The coolest things we can find,” said Rey Caacbay, senior business development manager.

The site now drives 10% of The Next Web’s total revenue.

Pairing content and commerce has unlocked data that The Next Web applies in other areas of the business, including advertising. For example, shopper data is a valuable asset for advertisers interested in buying sponsored posts. And blog posts and social media updates highlight products, which the site curates to ensure they align with audience interests.

“We can show our customers the information we’re getting from the e-commerce side, the conversion rate, how our audience interacts with the deals,” Caacbay said. “Now we have the numbers to back up the fact that our audience is creative and entrepreneurial, and buys a lot of e-learning items.”

Advertisers can participate in The Next Web articles in one of three ways: underwriting an article, sponsoring posts that mention their brand, and performance posts, which are designed to sell products.

“Because of TNW Deals, we have the data to give back to [advertisers] so they can build a performance model,” said Juan Buis, partnerships manager. “We can actually show them what we expect in terms of CTR or conversion rate.” (more…)

Impression Feast: How Food Publishers Handle The Thanksgiving Rush

thanksgiving bounty IIFor recipe sites, the days leading up to Thanksgiving bring a rush of users searching for turkey-basting tips and instructions for making stuffing and pumpkin pie. In the coming weeks, the winter holidays will bolster traffic even more.

These audience surges represent an opportunity and challenge for publishers as they try to maximize yield. Sales and operations teams must make sure their direct-sold campaigns deliver while optimizing monetization through programmatic channels. Helpfully, demand surges along with supply during this period. This is Q4 after all.

AdExchanger spoke with Epicurious/Bon Appétit, AllRecipes, The New York Times and Food52 about how they monetize during America’s most food-focused holiday.

Epicurious and Bon Appétit (Condé Nast)

This Thanksgiving will be Epicurious and Bon Appétit’s first grouped together in Condé Nast’s Food Innovation Group, a newly formed entity that leverages the combined scale of the two publishers. The goal for the group, officially formed in October, is to give advertisers a one-stop shop, said Craig Kostelic, head of digital sales for the Food Innovation Group.

The two publications combined had about 10 million unduplicated cross-platform uniques in September, according to comScore. That combined scale means bigger RFPs, Kostelic said. Advertisers can extend campaigns further through the Food Innovation Group Shopper Network, a web of food sites that reached 47 million unduplicated cross-platform uniques in October, again per comScore.

Maximizing yield required organizational changes within the group.

“We created an associate planning director that is a gatekeeper," Kostelic said. This person keeps the sell-through rate “on point” and focuses on ad products and inventory, he said. “Having someone who had been a planner, and not a business director, is a huge step forward.”

Programmatic selling occurs on a corporate level across Condé Nast, not at the magazine level. “We use their expertise to figure out what makes sense for CPM floors based on what we’re seeing from a direct standpoint, in order to yield the most revenue we can,” Kostelic said. (more…)

Sonobi Wants In On Publishers’ Walled Gardens

Prog Premium HearstThe walled gardens around publishers’ premium inventory are hard to take down, since publishers are reluctant to put premium inventory in channels associated with low-priced, performance-focused inventory.

But Sonobi, whose platform combines direct-sold impressions with those sold programmatically, is trying to chip away at those walls. The company hosted a Premium Programmatic Summit with its partner MediaMath and its client Hearst on Tuesday.

“I think one of the fears publishers have is [that] the way display moved to programmatic was a disaster and a poor case study,” said LUMA Partners founder and CEO Terence Kawaja. “As we move to premium inventory and ad formats like video, native, TV – that’s where publishers are making their money, and they don’t want to mess up the ecosystem like we did with display.”

Sonobi believes that if publishers let all their inventory compete – both programmatic and premium – programmatic impressions may outbid direct-sold ones. The way many publishers have waterfalls set up now, a $7 direct-sold CPM will win against a $10 CPM received programmatically. But if the bids and direct-sold inventory arrive at the same time, the highest price wins. This benefits both publishers and advertisers: When advertisers know a publisher exposes all of its inventory, they feel better assured of campaign delivery.

For some publishers, bringing programmatic into premium environments made perfect sense. “The reason we have made all our inventory available programmatically is that if an advertiser is willing to buy at a rate that will compete or beat, there is no reason we shouldn’t take that,” said William Murray, VP of sales planning and strategy at Scripps.

Other publishers struggle to get higher CPMs in programmatic.

Gretchen Grant, president of home-improvement site, bemoaned the difference in CPMs between direct sold and programmatic. Telling the story of the site to advertisers, or selling on context, gets the site its premium CPMs. Audience-targeted impressions net the site fractions of its brand buys, not its audience.

Agencies acknowledged being part of this problem. “Business Insider has the same audience as The Wall Street Journal for 10% to 20% the price,” said Adam Heimlich, SVP of programmatic at Horizon. “The price is being degraded, but it’s such a better deal.” (more…)

This Old House Drills Into Online Video

This Old HouseThis Old House, the venerable home-improvement brand, possesses a trove of video assets highly valued by users and advertisers alike.

Video is the very foundation of This Old House. The brand started off as a local Boston television show in 1979, and it now runs nationally on PBS. Time Inc., which had been running This Old House magazine, acquired the brand in 2001.

Originally, the show's video assets made their way online virtually unchanged and without much consideration about monetization.

“We were quite naïve about it,” said Scott Omelianuk, editor of This Old House Ventures. “We had ten to 15-minute clips for people who were on dial-up. We had video that no one was watching except our most dedicated fans. It wasn’t monetized, either, because advertisers weren’t interested in it.”

Cut to today, with an Internet dominated by craft albums and DIY videos. It’s a culture that plays to This Old House’s strengths, such that video is one of the site’s main draws.

“We have a very high video conversion rate compared to most publishers,” Omelianuk said. “Two out of three people who come to the site watch video, and they ... watch multiple videos.”

Instead of an online dumping ground for old videos, Omelianuk oversees a much more organized video hub. Among the DIY content are themed series like “Salvage Style,” “Family Projects” and “Team Saturday.” The latter garnered sponsorship from Jim Beam, which discreetly inserted itself into make-your-own games projects.

To monetize these videos, This Old House focuses on both sides of the video equation: CPM and sponsored.

This Old House takes advantage of a growing audience and pre-roll CPMs of $30+ (down from $100 CPMs easily garnered in video’s early heyday, Omelianuk noted). The rise of mobile benefits video, giving viewers an additional channel to watch This Old House content.

“Our completion rates on video are fantastic,” publisher Nate Stamos said. “We’ll have 22-minute episodes with 60% completion rates, and 800,000 to 1 million video starts a month.” (more…)

How SheKnows Plans To Scale Up Native Through BlogHer

sheknows blogherDoes anyone want to be a content creator anymore?

Women’s lifestyle site SheKnows has jumped into the user-generated content fray by buying BlogHer, which provides a technology platform for bloggers as well as opportunities to monetize. SheKnows paid an estimated $30 million-$40 million,

The acquisition fits with SheKnows’ recent efforts to turn its community into content creators, instead of just focusing on editorial content. Its “Experts Among Us” platform puts blogging hats on more than 500 members of the community, giving them a space to blog their views within

BlogHer adds 30 million monthly uniques to SheKnows’ 45 million monthly uniques. The company bought StyleCaster in August, which added 3 million uniques to SheKnows’ total.

SheKnows will add scale to its sponsored content business as it goes after the market for millennial women.

“We both have a strong imprint in branded content,” said SheKnows CEO Philippe Guelton. “SheKnows has always been at the forefront, with 75% of our business tied to some kind of sponsored, custom content creation for brands. It’s similar on the BlogHer side.”

SheKnows plans to leverage BlogHer’s platform, InfluenceHer360, across the entire business. The platform predicts how much traffic a sponsored post could bring. An advertiser looking for influencers can find potential matches through the platform.

“It guarantees engagement and total reach, including through social amplification, for an advertiser,” Guelton said.

The platform functions end to end, allowing for onboarding and management of content creators as well as performance tracking.

SheKnows’ strategy bears some comparison to the multichannel networks that have thrived by collecting like-minded content creators on YouTube. (more…)

Programmatic Grows To 37% Of AOL's Ad Revenue

AOL Q3 earningsCEO Tim Armstrong thinks AOL's bets on programmatic are paying off.

Programmatic grew to 37% of non-search ad revenue, compared to 12%. Forty seven percent of revenue from AOL's network was programmatic, compared to 18% during the same period last year. Advertising revenue grew 18% YoY to $473.4 million.

Armstrong attributed the increase to larger shifts in the marketplace from network buys to programmatic buys and heralded the "mechanization of Madison Avenue" as one of the "quantum changes" in the industry over the past 20 years.

"This is a fundamental resetting of how Madison Avenue is going to work," Armstrong told AdExchanger. "All the customers I knew are moving to programmatic more quickly than they did a year ago,” he said.

He emphasized that AOL has positioned itself to be in the right place at the right time for this change.

"We see powerful trends from every one of our programmatic offerings:, One and Marketplace," Armstrong said. AOL is focusing on being a platform company, with scaled distribution, scaled content and scaled monetization.

To focus on "scaled" content, AOL said it would focus more on its largest brands, with smaller ones receiving decreased investment or being shuttered.

At the same time, investments in mobile and video continue to increase. Along with programmatic, these areas experienced over 100% growth year over year.

AOL is positioning itself to capture both TV budgets and is focused on the linear TV market, signing on ten clients. "Our thesis in marketplace is to help both sides [supply and demand] transition to online," Armstrong said. "The second thing, is with both sides there are yield maximization opportunities."

"It's really about the bridge that's being built between TV and video. That means advertisers need to bridge their campaigns and analytics," Armstrong said.


TripAdvisor ‘Winning On Mobile,’ But Won't Talk Monetization

tripadvisorTripAdvisor grew revenue by 39% in the third quarter but disappointed investors by missing its guidance for Q3.

Half of TripAdvisor’s traffic now comes from mobile, big news for a site that attracts 315 million monthly unique visitors.

That shift has challenged many traditional publishers, but TripAdvisor said it has mobile monetization and user experience under control. “We’re winning on mobile,” CEO Stephen Kaufer said.

He cited strong organic growth in downloads of TripAdvisor-owned apps, as well as increases in monthly active users.

About 150 million people have downloaded TripAdvisor apps to date, with downloads up 120% year over year.

But there were also signs that mobile isn’t the powerhouse Kaufer claimed. During a previous call with investors, TripAdvisor stated that mobile contributed less than 5% to revenue. Though that number has allegedly grown, Kaufer declined to update that figure.

He hinted that gains in mobile aren’t coming from better conversions or click rates, but from an influx of mobile users. “The bigger driver [in monetization] has been growth in install base, and overall traffic growth with more app installs,” Kaufer said. “Plus, it’s getting to scale, so it’s starting to fetch a more active CPC bidding environment.”

Display advertising on smartphones doesn’t work as well as it does on larger screens. “There’s a lot of traffic shifting over to phone, and the standard CPM ad doesn’t work well there,” Kaufer said. “We do have them, but they’re not our preferred method for helping advertisers find their target audience.”

He also admitted the company can’t track users across devices. (more…)

Time Inc. CEO: 'CPMs Have Gone Up In Programmatic'

Time IncTime Inc. reported increasing digital revenues and declining print revenue for the third quarter.

Digital revenue rose 5% YoY, but that increase upped to 19% excluding the impact of corporate transactions related to the spinoff from Time Warner.

During September 2014, Time Inc. attracted 93.6 million multiplatform unique visitors, an increase of 27% from December 2013.

“We are selling Time Inc. as a single premium media network, with cross-brand, cross-marketing solutions,” said CEO Joe Ripp, adding that the response from advertisers so far has been positive.

Advertisers can buy Time Inc. inventory programmatically through this network. “Our CPMs have actually gone up in programmatic quite handsomely,” Ripp said.

Time Inc. offers premium content environments, a global scale of 130 million consumers and “unmatched consumer data assets.”

Time Inc., which has said before it uses “premium exchanges,” said CPMs are strong, with growth in mobile and video. The company is moving hard into video, where online inventory remains scarce.

Time Inc. creates 600-800 video segments a month, and will have 8,000 pieces of video content next year, up from 4,000 last year. Daily shows SI Now and People Now are among the video properties Time Inc. has created.

Ripp hopes that online video will enable Time Inc. to “participate in the television budgets” of its advertisers. (more…)

How TheStreet Blends Custom And Programmatic Sales

TheStreetFinancial advertisers tend to focus on performance advertising. They want people to fund a brokerage account or sign up for a new credit card.

But TheStreet, which attracts 40 to 50 million visitors a month at its sites, which include a namesake website, plus Stockpickr, The Deal and MainStreet, has noticed more interest in brand advertising.

“Ever since the trust broke down in [the financial crisis of] 2008, we’ve seen a shift towards branding,” said Patrick Dignan, VP of advertising sales for TheStreet. “There’s a re-education that’s going on, and they’re interested in using video and native to do this.”

To accommodate this shift, TheStreet has upped its investment in native and video. It just launched a sponsored-content program, BrandView, bringing in native technology provider Polar. Meanwhile, a video studio will produce more high-quality content aimed at educating investors – creating more video supply in the process. In one program for Oppenheimer, subject-matter experts from the investment firm created videos speaking to three themes, including how advisers work with affluent people. Efforts such as these have helped drive video revenue up 100% in the past year. 

Even as it adds upper-funnel offerings, TheStreet continues to respond to changes across the advertising ecosystem.


For instance, its programmatic revenue increased 80% over the past year. One brokerage company runs 100% programmatic with TheStreet. That allows the advertiser to target consumers using its data and enhances its attribution abilities, Dignan said.

Often, brand and programmatic will sit side by side on plans, something TheStreet facilitates by letting salespeople sell native and custom ad units and programmatic. “We have no channel conflict. I have sales team sell everything,” Dignan said. (more…)