USC Annenberg Online Journalism ReviewUSC





The New York Times:
Targeting Readers the Old-Fashioned Way
What Cost Registration?
Getting to Know You
Belo:
Active and Shifting Audiences
Tribune:
Growth in Site Loyalty and Newsletter Subscriptions
Dispatch.com:
Geography Proves to be
Eye-Opening
The New York Times:
Targeting Readers the Old-Fashioned Way
Privacy, Personal Data and Taking Users for Granted

Right from the start, New York Times Digital has been a pioneer in the wired wilderness, requiring users to sign up and fork over the demographic goods.

The result? A rich, non-intrusive and advertiser-friendly database that has grown from 1.7 million active users 18 months after launch to 10 million today. (Coincidentally, the site's traffic also stands at about 10 million unique users per month.) In January the Times added a few new fields to its registration page, asking for job title, function, industry, and whether the user subscribes to the newspaper.

Barbara Rice, group director of research, says: "Registration lets us build a relationship and communicate with the user much more powerfully. Yes, it's an extra step the user has to take. But it's a quid pro quo. You're receiving a premium product for free."

Targeted advertising is not the panacea that some media companies envision, but no other news site in the nation has even begun to attempt what the Times already does routinely.

For instance, the Times knows that 20 percent of its audience is international, which it wouldn't know without registration. The data also helps inform content decisions, such as whether to add to the current stew of video and audio on the site, which now includes Photographer's Journal, cooking demos, movie clips, audio reports from baseball beat reporters and other features.

"We're examining the resources we want to commit to multimedia, so this morning we pulled registration data on which audiences are the most loyal users of multimedia," Rice says. "The editorial side likes to know who's reading what articles and packages. Are stories being read by a New York City audience or international audience?"

Rice has a word of caution for sites looking to adjust their news programming to the different audiences that rotate in throughout the day.

"That actually runs counter to the direction that the market is going," she says. "TV network news is suffering because people aren't home to watch the evening news, and people want to watch programming on demand, rather than on a network schedule.  One of the major advantages of the Internet is that people can get the information they want, when they want it."
 
Editorial aside, the most powerful impact of registration has come in the marketing arena. Targeted advertising is not the panacea that some media companies envision, but no other news site in the nation has even begun to attempt what the Times already does routinely.

lasica image barbara rice

Barbara Rice
New York Times Digital

"An advertiser can come to us and say, 'I want to reach people in these ZIP codes,' " Rice says. "For instance, a pharmaceutical company can target women over age 35. eTrade can roll out an online advertising campaign limited to the New York area in conjunction with print and broadcast.

"We can target not only by demographics but also by behavior, by where a visitor has gone on our site. If a person frequently visits the Travel section but that section is sold out, an advertiser isn't shut out; they can reach him as he travels throughout the rest of the site."

The Times' pioneering Surround Sessions, which debuted in November, lets an advertiser "follow" a user for up to five pages throughout the site. Surround Sessions can become even more effective when combined with demographic data, Rice says.

"It's to everyone's benefit if the ads are more relevant to the user," she says.

The Tribune's Silver tips his hat to the Times' advertising and e-mail newsletter efforts. "They've been a real leader here," he says. "After we begin analyzing our own data, we may find similar opportunities to market customized e-mails," similar to the Times' NewsTracker.

The Times has what everybody lusts after: a richly drawn customer database and the technology to slice and dice it for advertisers. Silver says Tribune Interactive is just dipping its toes into the targeted advertising waters and would need to bring aboard new technology to put it to use. Belo, too, is studying targeted ads in addition to newsletter offerings that could bring in ad dollars or subscription fees.

On to -- Privacy, Personal Data and Taking Users for Granted

On to Taking Users for Granted...