Time Inc. and Sprint Team Up to Conquer Mobile Ads

Marrying content with targeting

Mobile advertising has lagged consumer behavior, but now Time Inc. and Sprint have struck a wide-ranging deal to crack the burgeoning market.

The deal lets the No. 1 U.S. magazine publisher tap into the carrier’s 56-million user base through Sprint’s personalized ad-targeting service, Pinsight Media+. Advertisers will have access to Sprint’s mobile portal, ad networks like Jumptap and third-party publishers like AccuWeather. Likewise, Sprint will be able to run clients’ ads on the mobile sites of Time Inc.’s brands like Time, People and Sports Illustrated, which reach 20 million monthly unique visitors. The deal is one of the bigger initiatives to come from Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang, who spearheaded it with Sprint CMO Bill Malloy, who she knows from pre-Time Inc. days.

“It’s blending the best of Time Inc.’s advertising-friendly content with the targeted mobile advertising capabilities we have,” said Dan Polk, head of mobile advertising for Pinsight Media+.

The pact is a big step for Time Inc., which like other publishers has struggled to harness digital’s growth as its core print ad base has declined. In particular, it will help Time Inc. disseminate its big new native ad unit, Amplify, which has until now been limited to Apple’s iAd network.

“This is an opportunity to distribute our brands even more widely,” said Cyrus Beagley, svp and group gm, Time Inc. “The idea is to be able to take advantage of the reach and scale they can provide. We have a leading audience in mobile among content players, but advertisers are constantly seeking more.”

Mobile is the fastest growing category of digital advertising as advertisers try to keep up with consumers’ increasing dependence on their handheld devices. It’s attractive not only for its ubiquity and pervasiveness—23 percent of U.S. Web traffic is coming via mobiles—but also its ability to pump out targeted and personalized messages.

Enter Sprint, which follows other carriers that have gotten into the ad business. The enormous trove of data it has on its subscribers lets Sprint identify target audiences without cookies, which don’t apply on the mobile as they do on the desktop (and Apple doesn’t allow them), but in a safe way, as the carrier is asking customers to opt-in to receive targeted ads.

“Sprint obviously has a ton of data on their users, and they’re also taking a kind of conservative approach to privacy,” said Jason Pope, vp, AOD Mobile at VivaKi. “It’s something that they can tout.”

The deal also has content and retail components. Time Inc. will create an app that will let Sprint users pull in customized content from Time Inc.’s brands based on topics of their choosing. Preloaded on users’ home screens, the free, still-unnamed app will have a built-in audience to which Time Inc. can try to upsell its paid digital content.

As for the retail piece, Time Inc. will provide mobile content to demo tablets and smartphones in Sprint’s 3,500 U.S. brick-and-mortar stores.

Illustration: Oliver Munday