NYTCo Digital Dollars Slip Again, Attributed To ‘Complexity, Fragmentation’

Mark Thompson, CEO NYTCoWhile the New York Times Co.’s digital advertising revenue could have been worse in Q2, the publisher saw its display strategy continued to be challenged by what the company said was a “complex and fragmented” marketplace. Read the release (PDF).

Digital ad sales brought in $51.2 million during the quarter, a decline of 2.7%. In the meantime, there was some small signs of progress on the digital front, as online and mobile ad dollars comprised 24.7% of total companywide ad revenues compared with 23.9% in Q2 2012. Though part of the reason for that is the continuing decline of print revenues, which fell 6.8% as total advertising dropped 5.8% versus last year’s sales.

Executives are expected to discuss how they are navigating the difficult currents of the digital ad market’s complexity with its nascent exchange strategy under Matt Prohaska, who was brought in as programmatic advertising director last spring. But the company is already warning that the current Q3 outlook is looking as “volatile” as previous quarters. Luckily for the NYTCo, advertising isn’t the only digital focus.

On a positive note, circulation revenues were up as digital subscription programs provided some hope in the face of industrywide print downward spirals.  Revenues from the mix of digital-only subscription packages, e-readers and replica editions were $38.3 million for a gain of 44.1 percent. The NYTCo now has 699,000 digital subscribers across its flagship paper and the International Herald Tribune.

Whether the NYTCo will be able to derive higher CPMs from that growing digital audience is the bigger question, one that will face Meredith Kopit Levien, who left her post as Forbes Chief Revenue Officer earlier this month to become the NYTCo’s EVP, advertising. She’ll take that post on Aug. 5th.

Updated: In discussing the impact on traditional media brands like the NYTCo from the rise of programmatic, both CEO Mark Thompson and CFO Jim Follo reiterated past statements about the tons of inventory that place downward pressure on display prices. Thompson alluded to the hiring of Prohaska and Levien and said the two would move forward on efforts to make programmatic and “unique custom advertising” work for the NYTCo. But he also noted that the growth plans executives are working on are in the early stages.

The company didn’t offer much more details about those plans. When asked by analyst Craig Huber about the size of the contribution coming from the early programmatic initiatives, Denise Warren, EVP of the Digital Products and Services Group, said that the amount is small and that the NYTCo doesn’t disclose those numbers.

For the most part, Thompson is placing a great deal of hope on video as an appeal to consumers and advertisers. As he noted, the NYTimes.com began offering free, unlimited access to video streams in Q2. And while video ad dollars are also miniscule, growth in some months is “60-, even 100%.”

But Thompson tempered any great expansion of video ad dollars by conceding, “We’re not the only publishing house focused on video. Overtime we do expect CPMs to come down as a result, but the opportunity in video remains large.”

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