New York Times CRO: If You’re Not Facebook, Google Or Snapchat, You’re A Niche Advertising Business

ipAny publisher who is not a big platform company is on the express train to becoming a niche ads business, predicts Meredith Kopit Levien, EVP and CRO of The New York Times.

“Up until now, we’ve been a niche consumer business with a $1 billion-plus newspaper ad business,” Kopit Levien said, speaking Thursday at AdExchanger’s Industry Preview event in New York.

“Now we’re on a path to becoming a very big consumer business and a niche ad business,” she added. “If you’re a content company and you’re not Facebook, Google or Snapchat, you’re in the niche ads business.”

Rob Norman, global chief digital officer for WPP’s GroupM, sat down with Kopit Levien and Dave Morris, CRO for CBS Interactive, on Thursday to assess how both major media organizations are grappling with fragmented consumer attention and growing platform domination.

Here were some of the salient points:

On blending subscription and ad-supported revenue.

MEREDITH KOPIT LEVIEN (NYT): We’re more driven by subscriptions than advertising now, so we’ve shifted the company toward [growing our] subscription rate. (On last count, The New York Times had about 1.6 million digital-only subscribers.)

We’ve had an awesome year for subscriptions, and not just due to the elections. Two things are driving that: frequency, depth and variety of content, and getting people to come back and feel deeply. If they read politics, maybe it’s getting them to read something else like fashion. We think we run the most successful model for paid journalism in the world.



DAVE MORRIS (CBSi): Advertising was our core revenue model eight years ago when I joined CBSi. Since then, we’ve seen our international content and licensing business grow. Our subscription business is a small business, but a growing business. CBS All Access now has more than 1 million subscribers. We’re at about 50% advertising and 50% “other” revenue today. … There is a future for subscription plus ad-supported revenue and you will see it more in some of the shows we launch this year.

On the importance of brand in the new media environment.

Kopit Levien (NYT): The value of our assets is going up. The New York Times is a consumer brand, which a lot of people have passion for. Given what’s going on in the world, geopolitically, the importance of being a consumer brand is significant. Over the last two decades, journalism has become more of a transactional business, but with all the conversation that’s gone on about fake news and how one gets at facts and the truth, we will see a shift back to news as a brand.

News is a relationship business and the purpose of The New York Times brand is to give people understanding. … [But] making great content is hard, expensive and it requires experts in storytelling and finding formats that make people give a damn about the topics [we write about]. That extends into our brand storytelling, too.

On how a TV media company creates a “unique cocktail” for consumers and advertisers cross-screen.

Morris (CBSi): I sit in an interesting place at CBS because I run ad sales for digital for both direct and programmatic, and I report to Jo Ann Ross (president of ad sales) on the TV side. So I sit right at the fulcrum of digital and TV. Our biggest asset is still CBS television. Eighty million people watch CBS programming every single day on TV alone, 365 days a year. Yet we have over 700 people who work at CBS Interactive, and is certainly one of the biggest sites on the web.

We are the epitome of TV at scale, and extend those people into digital channels. We like plans to be screen-agnostic, including television, video on demand, OTT, tablet and smartphone. We sell across all those screens, but there is no question mobile has driven our growth on the web. Out of 700 million streams on digital platforms now, more than half of that is on mobile devices. It’s a huge growth catalyst to our business.

Media meets data.

Morris (CBSi): A lot of data is used for planning and targeting and I get it. It’s important and we do it, too. But we need a lot more data for attribution and reporting to know, [did a campaign] work? Where did it work? We need to do a lot more post-campaign reporting and attribution.

Kopit Levien (NYT): We have power users who read topic-to-topic and we think we can use data to unlock who’s interested in what, and where they are interested. Readerscope is a tool we launched, which allows us to do probabilistic “topic modeling.” We’re using it to direct marketers on what stories they should be telling on our platform.

We also think about how we bring the world new media innovations. Sometimes that means bringing in new technology. We partnered with Google and embedded Google Maps into our “36 Hours” series, for instance, and this is going to sound old-[fashioned], but particularly at this moment in time when brands have a lot of things to say, I think brands want to associate with topical subjects that actually matter to their businesses. Brands will rally around big bodies of content that we wouldn’t necessarily have had the resources to architect on our own.

The order and depiction of the interview has been lightly edited and condensed. 

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