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New York Times Programmatic

The New York Times quickens plan to take ads out of the ‘gutter’ and into the ‘editorial stream’

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By Seb Joseph, News editor

March 30, 2016 | 5 min read

Like its rivals the New York Times is trying to make its ads less interruptive to offset declining CPMs but hopes to stand out by its ability to ensure that creativity no longer takes a back seat to inventory and targeting.

“Programmatic doesn’t have to be a tool for media buying and targeting. It can be used for creative too,” claimed Michael Villaseñor, creative director for ad innovation and marketing at the publisher. His business is testing dynamic ads that are underpinned by data and automated technology to ensure the industry’s heavy focus on scale does not come at the expense of creativity. “Now it’s all about what you show them, when and why,” added Villaseñor.

Much of the groundwork is being laid via the New York Times’ Mobile Moments and Flex Frame tools; the first targets readers seven times throughout the day using research data collated by its editorial product team, while the latter is an adaptive ad format that covers 75 per cent of a user’s mobile screen. “It’s native but also it’s a bit of a display push,” described Villaseñor, who said it’s still “early days” for both solutions – having both launched in August – with much of the developmental work still establishing the best way to create ads in real-time.

“We’re looking at how do we get assets from here to there, and not just the quickest way to do that but also the most efficient,” said Villaseñor.

Part of the publisher’s effort will seemingly test whether ads that keep people on the page rather than push them to another site generate better engagement. If someone sees an ad for a pair of sports shoes for example, it would let a user buy them from within the ad unit in order to minimize the disruption to their reading experience.

While the concept is there, the New York Times will need to overcome many hurdles in the coming months if programmatic creative is to be something it can scale. Advertisers will need to be convinced to shell out more on creating more iterations of an ad instead of repurposing TV creative campaign assets.

“We’re trying to work out how we can get ads out of the gutters and into the stream and then also provide them with enough of a good case around it so that the content itself can co-exist. What really excites me is when all these pieces start to become more orchestrated…. it’s early days but the idea is that we can look at the great learnings we have from programmatic but also the great experiences we get from the bespoke work we do for brands [from the T Brand Studio],” he continued.

The marketer declined to share specific details on how either format has performed to date, though he did say the days of “interruptive ads” that “really cry for your attention” are coming to an end. It bares similarities to The Economist’s own attempt at dynamic creative in partnership with Proximity last year, although the campaign was for its own content.

Should it be successful for the New York Times, then creative programmatic could help push it past the $800m digital revenue by 2020 target it outlined last year as part of a renewed focus on growing the business.

There’s also the work its doing on Facebook Articles, Apple News and Google AMP, the latter of which has made it think about how an ad appears on a page that loads so quickly. Half of the publisher’s articles now use the AMP format, and those readers who consume 10 articles within a month using either the form or via the site are asked to subscribe.

Publishers have voiced early concerns about the format’s ability to generate meaningful advertising revenue, however Google is working closely with the industry to iron out the kinks.

“What excites me about Google AMP in particular is that its redefining what it is to load up a piece of content up quickly,” said Villaseñor. “We have to start thinking about the web as a future storytelling platform and a lot of that is going to depend on the speed. I think advertising needs to keep up and this goes back to redefining what an ad unit is in content.”

That shift in the way advertising is built into the publisher’s platforms will be vital to the company’s bid to double revenues over the next four years as it looks to attract more paying subscribers.

Michael Villaseñor will be giving more insight into the New York Times at this year’s Media Slap conference. He will be joined with executives from Trinity Mirror, Forbes and many more as they discuss, debate and dissect the hottest topics in media publishing today. Register here.

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