Scripps Talks Digital Strategy As It Sheds Newspapers

Tom Sly ScrippsOn April 1, the newspaper assets of the E.W. Scripps Company will go to Journal Media Group – publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In exchange, Scripps will receive Journal Communications’ local broadcast, radio and digital holdings, giving the media conglomerate a total of 33 broadcast properties, 34 radio properties and 150 different digital properties from local TV station websites to traffic and weather apps.

When this trade-off completes, Scripps plans to streamline its sales operations, providing buyers with more consistency across its offerings (if a buyer wants to purchase inventory across local sports sections, for instance) and audience.

And this simplicity is possible now that Scripps supports one less type of media, said Tom Sly, VP of digital revenue. “Newspaper and broadcasting businesses sell digital differently,” he said.

Broadcast properties generally sell only to the largest advertisers in a given market because of the higher cost of creative and TV ads. “They sell more across the month and with a broader type of reach, while newspapers are more targeted, and have more updated copy changes,” Sly said. On the digital side, Scripps can focus on how to best meet the needs of those larger local buyers.

Broadcast also brings an additional revenue source to digital buys: video. “Publishers like us are in a great position when it comes to video,” Sly said. “It’s brand-safe and the highest quality. People go to be informed about the community, and advertisers see that.”

While Scripps is focused on expanding its video inventory, local sales teams still mostly sell directly. “We spent a lot of 2014 thinking about how to grow those quality video views,” Sly said. It created more content, but also worked to make site layouts more video-friendly, doubling the views and revenue from video from the previous year.

For local markets, Scripps has both digital-only sellers and integrated sellers who handle digital and broadcast. Programmatic sales occur at a national level. “Programmatic hasn’t affected us much in the local markets, which is the bulk of our business,” Sly said.

But Sly said programmatic will benefit Scripps, which he claims offers better advertiser quality and higher CPMs than the ad networks it’s replacing.

“Programmatic takes care of whatever we don’t sell direct locally, and it allows us to drive a higher CPM than we used to with remnant,” Sly said.

Since Scripps has never had a strong national sales presence, there isn’t much sales conflict. “It’s allowed up to do business with brands and agencies we’ve never done before, because our local markets didn’t scale before,” Sly said.

One programmatic salesperson handles everything from trading desk relationships to managing Scripps’ inventory “like a stock trader,” Sly said, while two ad operations people take charge on programmatic, helping to set up partners in the tech stack and implement tags.

Scripps runs a networkwide private exchange, the Scripps Private Exchange, where it can provide advertisers additional transparency, like only buying on sports or weather-related content. “It used to be ‘spray and pray,’ buy as many impressions as they can. Now with the data they’re willing to pay more. That and the contextual relevance drives CPMs up,” Sly said.

It also participates in the Local Media Consortium (LMC). Through the LMC, Google sells Scripps inventory as part of a private exchange of local news sites. “We have a great relationship with Google and do a call with them every other week,” Sly said. It’s done deals with other programmatic buyers, like Centro, but that partner doesn’t drive a huge amount of revenue.

Scripps uses a DMP, but plans to harness more of its first-party data. The LMC may share data consortiumwide, with publishers collaborating to create the same data segments for large brand buyers.

It hasn’t yet expanded into programmatic direct, but plans to do so through the LMC and through FatTail, which built an ad ops order-management tool.

It all adds up to a formula of direct sales on a local level and programmatic for sales across all its properties. “We’re aggressively pursuing the programmatic side on the national level,” Sly said. “Over time we’re going to build more relationships, and focus on more private deals.”

In divesting themselves of newspapers and TV/radio holdings respectively, Scripps and Journal Media Group will also see regulatory benefits, since the FCC prevents media companies from owning TV stations and newspapers in the same market. Freed from these constraints, Scripps can expand into more markets.

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