By: Steve Outing
New Century Network, the national network of newspaper Internet sites formed by nine of the largest U.S. newspaper companies, is out of the box at last. NCN this week announced that in December it will launch its national advertising sales effort on behalf of its affiliate newspaper Web sites — the first of many component services that will be introduced by NCN in the coming months.
NCN, which currently has about 70 newspaper Web sites as “prototype affiliates,” will begin selling national ads into groups of newspaper sites. It has formed a partnership with Cox Interactive Sales, whose seven sales reps in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco already have begun selling online ads for NCN papers. According to NCN’s new vice president of advertising, Tom Bates, the Cox sales crew has sold national Web ads to IBM, Ziff-Davis and American Express — which will begin showing up on some NCN affiliate sites in December. Bates also is in the process of hiring NCN staff ad sales directors. (Cox salespeople will continue to work with NCN long term, Bates says.)
The ad sales effort, which does not yet have a formal name, is the newspaper industry’s attempt to wrestle away Web advertising dollars from Internet search and directory companies like Yahoo!, Infoseek, Lycos, Excite and others, which are getting the vast majority of Web ad placements while smaller sites — including those of the newspaper industry — go hungry.
According to Bates, this joint ad effort will offer national and regional advertisers the kind of large numbers of ad impressions that they demand. And, he says, these are “much better” impressions because they can be targeted to specific geographic areas and/or interest groupings. NCN can place ads into specific sections of affiliate newspaper sites, so that an advertiser might buy impressions on online sports pages in selected regions of the U.S. By the end of this year, NCN will be able to offer more sophisticated consumer targeting, Bates says. That functionality will be added as a result of an as yet unannounced partnership with a third-party technology provider.
Affiliate publishers keep the majority of revenue for national ads placed onto their sites, but Bates was unwilling to be more specific. Relationships are generally desired to be exclusive, but are taken on a case by case basis, he says.
Ad management tools coming
For the immediate future, the ad sales effort will simply place ads on newspaper sites by doling them out from a central NCN server. Bates says that NCN is beginning to work on building a longer-term ad management infrastructure, and the goal is to provide a technical solution that will allow affiliates to manage their local ads as well as national ones through a software toolset.
One company that already is providing those services is Real Media Inc. of New York, a national Internet advertising network that works primarily with the newspaper industry. NCN’s ad effort appears to be a direct competitor to Real Media. According to Bates, NCN has been in discussions with Real Media, Doubleclick and other Web ad networks serving multiple publishers, and has yet to decide whether to partner with or compete against those companies. “We’re all potential competitors or partners,” Bates says.
NCN also is in negotiations with other technology providers who may offer up tools for setting up central online classifieds services, consumer and business online directory services, etc. Bates says he has no announcements yet, but should be able to unveil one or two significant deals before the end of 1996.
Core management team named
NCN has been operating quietly, admits Bates, while newspaper online competitors like Microsoft Sidewalk and America Online’s Digital City grab the headlines. Only now, one-and-a-half years after NCN was first announced, does it have something tangible to show for its efforts. NCN permanent CEO Lee deBoer started work in June 1996, more than a year after the initial announcement, and has spent the last few months building his management team.
In addition to Bates, NCN has hired:
* Matt Cohen, chief technology officer, who moved to NCN from the Houston Chronicle’s interactive division.
* Susan Bokern, vice president for affiliate relations, formerly with Gannett’s new media operation.
* John Papanek, vice president of content, formerly with Time-Warner’s custom publishing unit and the executive responsible for launching Sports Illustrated for Kids.
* Stacey Artandi, vice president of business development, from the TV Food Network (cable channel).
* Bart Morrison, chief financial officer, from Polygram Records.
* And working as a consultant to NCN is Mark Potts, formerly of @Home and the Washington Post’s Digital Ink.
Potts is currently working on a redesign of the NCN gateway site, which will debut on November 25. And Bokern is planning two affiliates meetings — one for the western U.S. and one for the eastern part of the country — in December.
Bates says that he expects to have 11 sales people at work by the end of the year, and is planning an ambitious, 12-month national ad campaign promoting NCN affiliates sites to advertisers next year.
NCN intitially is focused on the U.S. marketplace. Among its founding companies — Advance Publications, Cox Newspapers, Gannett Co., The Hearst Corp., Knight-Ridder, The New York Times Co., Times-Mirror, Tribune Co. and The Washington Post Co. — are some 225 newspapers employing more than 25,000 journalists. NCN is targeting America’s 1,532 daily newspapers as affiliates.
Contact: Tom Bates, email@example.com
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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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