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Fox News jumps into the stream, with select cable providers

While dozens of digital media companies spent the past few weeks rolling out new Web series in search of television dollars, Fox News believes it’s got something far more valuable: actual TV.

The network has quietly begun enabling customers of AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV and several other small cable systems to stream its linear network live on their tablets or smartphones (though not via desktops and laptops yet) provided they prove they’re paying subscribers. As of now, Fox News strips out TV spots on these platforms, but plans are in the works to start selling video ads during the livestreams.

“There’s a big opportunity to explore dynamic live commercial insertion,” said Jeremy Steinberg, Fox News vp of digital sales and business development. “Authenticated TV is the direction we’re going as a business.”

Steinberg argues that until recently, because cable has held back much of its content from the Internet to protect its MSO relationships, it’s been missing out on the Web video ad boom. But as authentication becomes more prevalent, he said, it should attract more brand dollars. “[Our TV shows] are quality content people have no access to yet online. It’s not user-generated, you know where it runs, you know it’s quality. Given the volume, this could be a big deal.”

Volume will be a bit of a question early on, or at least until bigger cable companies are on board. Plus, Fox isn’t the only cable network available online. CNN lets users stream the linear network, complete with TV ads; ESPN is planning to follow Fox’s lead and start selling video ads, said a rep.

The Web video push isn’t the only digital plan on Fox’s horizon. The network, never the biggest Web player despite its TV dominance (its digital properties reached around 30 million unique users, versus close to 60 million each for CNN and MSNBC), is a big proponent of tech-driven ad selling.

Recently, Fox began using Collective Media’s Amp platform to help the publisher discover untapped audiences on its site as part of a new initiative dubbed Fox News Plus. With Plus, Steinberg will try to unearth audience segments that are responsive to a particular brand’s message. A tech advertiser could target an alternative demo on Foxnews.com, for example. “What’s been lacking for many publishers are audience analytics and insights that ad networks have,” Steinberg said. “Now, I can go to an advertiser and say, ‘We can do exactly what these other guys do, and we have trusted content and highly engaged users.’”

On that note, Fox is also making a move away from using ad networks entirely as it embraces real-time bidding in a big way—a tactic it increasingly finds more profitable than outsourcing its sales, Steinberg said. For years, Fox has used the supply-side sales platform Admeld (owned by Google) to sell some of its tier-two inventory. Now, the network is planning to initiate direct, data-driven ad buys with clients—an alternative to private exchanges, which don’t work, Steinberg said. The company is even selling advertisers the option to purchase complete audience takeovers on the site—the ad tech version of a homepage takeover.

“We’re a big supporter of second-channel, automated buying,” Steinberg said. “We’ve just had so much success with it.”

Sounds great, but Fox News will face some doubters. “They’re one of the more forward publishers when it comes to using exchanges, ad tech,” Adnetik CEO Ed Montes said. “But most sophisticated buyers are going to be using a similar tool. I don’t feel like this is earth-shattering. Now, moving away from ad networks, that makes sense to me.”

Said Steinberg: "We're going to be able to find out things about our audience that no one knows."