Digital ads that use The New York Times’ first-party data accounted more than 20% of the Times’ core ad revenue in Q4 of 2020. The year before, revenue from ads with first-party data totaled just 7%.
Overall, digital ad revenue fell 2% from the year before, to $90.1 million. Q4 revenue overall rose .2% to $509.4 million.
The push to use first-party data comes as the New York Times focuses on being a subscription-first business. The advertising it does run must meet high standards for overall user experience – like showing more personalized ads and removing the low-quality ads that can sneak in programmatically.
The Times also stopped running open market programmatic ads in its apps in 2020 and closed its two advertising services businesses, Hello Society and Fake Love. Together, all three businesses contributed $8 million in revenue in Q4 2019, and $28 million in ad revenue for FY 2019.
The Times’ advertising business also continues to decline overall, in part because print advertising drags down results. Print advertising was hit especially hard due to the pandemic, declining 39% to $49.1 million in Q4.
Expanding the pool of potential subscribers
The Times closed out a banner year for subscriptions. In the fourth quarter, the Times counted 5.1 million digital news subscribers and another 1.6 million subscribers for its other products, like its Crosswords and Cooking products.
But there are plenty more potential subscribers.
“There are a billion people reading digital news, and an expected 100 million willing to pay for it in English, so it’s not hard to imagine The Times having a subscriber base that is substantially larger than where we are today,” said Times CEO and President Meredith Kopit Levien.
After this banner year, the Times is thinking about how it can expand the type of journalism it produces in order to bring in even more readers.
In 2021, it will trial a subscription for The Wirecutter, experiment with its read-aloud audio subscription services Audm and increase investment in its Cooking and Games subscription products.
The Times is also hiring data scientists, engineers and product designs “whose work will make our journalism more accessible, engaging and impactful,” Levien said.
On the marketing side, The Times is using its data –and position as a direct-to-consumer marketer – to improve its understanding of the customer journey for its products.
“While many readers convert immediately in moments of high news need, there are plenty of others who do so over time as they begin to understand and experience The Times’ breadth and value,” Levien said. “With each passing quarter, our understanding of audience signals and our ability to act on them grows, making it easier to drive conversion.”