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News Flash: Digital Opens Door to Ads

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NEW YORK Historically, TV and print news outlets have offered limited opportunities for advertisers, at least compared to their entertainment brethren. Recently, however, companies including The New York Times Media Group, the BBC, CNN and MSNBC.com have come up with some innovative digital options.

Shoba Purushothaman, CEO and co-founder of The Newsmarket, a Web-based video marketing and distribution platform, said it's encouraging that the news industry is recognizing it can't simply take traditional ad models and apply them to digital platforms. "It's not about slapping it on the Web and saying it's going to work," said Purushothaman.

That point is not lost on The New York Times Media Group, which late last month partnered with business social-networking site LinkedIn. In the deal, LinkedIn members who read the business and technology sections on NYTimes.com will automatically have articles related to their professional interest set up for them on the site. (This is made possible by a cookie on LinkedIn.)

Denise Warren, svp and chief advertising officer for The New York Times Media Group, said the agreement allows the organization to tap into "executive decision makers."

Advertisers will receive targeted information based on profile data -- e.g., a person's industry, job, gender and geography-gathered by the NYT Media Group. Sales reps will help advertisers choose the appropriate platforms -- including mobile, video and blogs -- for ads ranging from banners to leaderboards.

Last year, for the first time, BBC.com -- the international Web site for the BBC (outside of the U.K.) -- began selling advertising globally. In April, a multiplatform sales force was launched in the U.S. to sell advertising across BBC.com, BBC America, BBCAmerica.com, BBC World News and BBCworldnews.com. (Advertising on BBC America and its Web site had been sold by Discovery Communications.) Two ad units are available, both offering video capability.
Currently, when users in all markets go to BBC.com, they're routed to bbc.co.uk.

But the Web site is launching a U.S. edition in the second half of 2009 that will cater to U.S. appetites, according to Mark Gall, svp of advertising sales for BBC America and BBC.com.

CNN "turned a corner" when it struck a partnership in June 2007 with Google's YouTube to present the network's presidential debate coverage, according to Greg D'Alba, evp and COO of CNN ad sales. Starting with the 2004 elections, CNN had made a concerted effort to attract election-coverage sponsors with packages that offered a variety of platforms. In 2004, only four jumped on. Now the network has 12 sponsors, including AT&T, Cisco Systems, Exxon Mobil and Hyundai.

The perception is growing that CNN's product is for a range of demographics, not just "the gray-haired gentleman with a huge portfolio of wealth getting ready to retire," said D'Alba. Roughly six additional sponsors have inked election coverage packages, he added, though he declined to name them as those advertising flights have not yet begun.

The idea of an election package was conceived by CNN's strategic integration group, which was established in 2003. The group focuses on ideas that can be spread across platforms and consists of "every type of professional creative profile you would find in an ad agency," said D'Alba. The intention, he added, is to build business from "the creative up and not to budget down."

Marina Lemas, manager of worldwide media, entertainment and sponsorship for Cisco, said CNN's strategic integration group helped the company work out its election package, which runs through November. It includes a presence on CNN, CNN Headline News, CNN.com, YouTube and mobile, as well as in airports and at events tied to national conventions.

"We really don't want to just buy a sponsorship that any other advertiser can buy," Lemas said. "We're all about networking."

While news organizations haven't found their way into branded entertainment, MSNBC.com is getting close. Its interactive games, including NewsBreaker -- consumers break open bricks (with a ball they're trying to keep in play) that reveal on-screen headlines -- will likely be opened up to advertising in 2009, according to Catherine Captain, vp of marketing at MSNBC.com.

Kyoo Kim, vp of sales at MSNBC.com, noted that while the Web site had been competing solely against other news properties for ad dollars, "more and more we are actually competing against entertainment properties and entertainment budgets."

In terms of advertising opportunities, Kim said he expects there to be some straightforward sponsorships as well as the ability to integrate brands into the actual gaming experience. He also expected that games, via widgets, would be able to move to other platforms such as Facebook.

"We don't have the same hard journalistic walls [as some competitors], so I think there are opportunities to innovate in a way that most advertisers want," he said.