Why Are You at CES, Forbes?

Publisher plotting new swipeable site design format

Of course Forbes has been sending editors and reporters to International CES for years. They’re a business publication. But what’s the business side of the publication doing at the world’s largest gadget show?

“Everyone we’re doing business with is here,” said Forbes group publisher and chief revenue officer Meredith Kopit Levien, echoing agency execs’ sentiments heading into CES.

Although Levien estimated she would spend less than 20 percent of her time at CES on the show floor, the technology encircling Vegas isn’t lost on Forbes, particularly all the new tablets and big-screen tablet/smartphone hybrids on display from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, LG, etc. This quarter the publisher plans to roll out a new design style to its mobile site and eventually its tablet site, said Forbes svp of digital ad strategy Mark Howard. Right now users can check out Forbes.com in the traditional, broad desktop format, which they’ll also see when checking out the site on their tablets, or view the more vertical mobile site on their smartphones. But the forthcoming design will be horizontally swipeable.

The swipeable design is inspired by the reading experience on Flipboard, on which Forbes has been distributing its content. The design’s corresponding advertising approach will also be similar to the news aggregator’s tablet app. Rather than run rich-media units like horizontally oriented tablet apps such as AOL’s Editions iPad or Yahoo’s now-defunct Livestand, Forbes prefers Flipboard’s static units, which Howard said are “light” and don’t “bog down” the reading experience but still get readers’ attention.

“Creating the ad experience as part of the swiping experience, that behavior is key for us to be thinking about how we want to modify our content in an environment that we control,” said Howard. He continued, “You have formats like the full pages in the tablet environment that are getting 100 percent of the attention during that period when that ad is in front of that person.”

While advertisers certainly wouldn’t balk at better viewability for their ads, the static preference is a bit contradictory when, during the same interview, Levien expresses her enthusiasm for nontraditional ad products like the advertorial-as-native-ad Forbes Brand Voices. A major push for Forbes is “getting people past banners and rectangles efficiently bought by machines and then it’s going to be about finding native and other organic solutions,” she said.

So what gives on the cognitive dissonance? Levien reconciles things by saying that traditional display units as well as print ads still generate much of Forbes’ revenue. “Our traditional business—banners, rectangles, ad pages, welcome ads, videos—is healthy enough that we’ve been able now to put together two-and-a-half to three years to invest in new [ad] products,” she said, adding that last year Forbes notched its best financial performance in five years.

With all the talk about native ad units and programmatic buying for traditional banners, is Forbes looking to crack the possibilities of programmatic buying for native ads? Not yet.

Forbes has a “big team” that is “pretty advanced” when it comes to programmatic selling, Levien said, but “we’re not yet at a point where…we’re really talking about native [ads] being managed in a programmatic way because I actually think at the present moment the challenges that programmatic and native are trying to solve are inherently different. I do think they’ll merge at some point in the future where we’ll be talking about machine-to-machine-bought content solutions. But right now it’s still considered by the market to be two different challenges with two different solutions.”

However, Howard pointed out that Forbes is pursuing native programmatic at another angle. On Wednesday the publisher began working with an undisclosed partner to convert Brand Voices posts into content ads that are then distributed via ad exchanges. “So we’re using a programmatic approach on the distribution side of the [native] content,” he said.

One trend Forbes will follow this year is the rise in online video’s prominence. “2013 will be the first year where we really scale our video offering to be a meaningful part of our business,” Levien said. She zeroed in on the cross-screen adaptability of Forbes’ video content while sitting only yards away from LG’s booth exhibiting its smart TV apps, which begged the question: Is it possible that Forbes would develop a smart TV app to stream its videos? “Sure,” she said of the possibility, without committing to any plans.