By: Ken Liebeskind

Newspapers Distribute Wireless Content, But Wonder About Ads

from this week’s special E&P Interactive print section:

An outpouring of wireless services this spring offers intriguing new
pathways for newspapers to distribute their product. The services may
revolutionize news delivery by making it ultraportable, but questions
about advertising potential make wireless profits uncertain.

For now, newspapers are providing wireless content simply to broaden
their reach. ‘We are committed to being able to deliver news and
information to whatever platform consumers might want,’ says Ed Canale,
director of new media at The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee.

Nowadays, going ‘portable’ no longer means merely taking a laptop on a
business trip or vacation. Now it suggests checking the stock market or
traffic report while strolling around the mall.

Early this month, Cox Interactive Media launched Access Atlanta
Anywhere, a service tied to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Web
site, ajc.com. The service sends a variety of local content to Palm
Pilots and compatible devices, pagers, and wireless telephones with Web
access. Users can customize the content they receive to get local news,
sports, weather, traffic, movie show times, and an entertainment

At the end of March, Belo Interactive unveiled My-Finance, a
personalized service that sends daily stock and financial information
to wireless users. The service is offered through the Web sites of
Belo’s major papers, The Dallas Morning News, the Providence (R.I.)
Journal, and The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. As with the Cox
service, users can personalize the content by requesting the stock
quotes they want to see.

The Wall Street Journal offers a variety of wireless content, from
financial headlines to article summaries to full stories. The idea is
to tailor the content to each wireless device. Customers who have to
pay for the content, according to their service contracts, may be eager
to customize and get ‘a lighter download,’ according to Randy Kilgore,
executive director of sales and marketing at wsj.com, the Journal’s Web

During the early presidential primaries, The Washington Post sent
election returns and political news to Palm Pilots and wireless phones
from its Web site. The information was updated frequently, whenever the
site was updated. The Post plans to extend its wireless offerings later
this year with ‘substantial convention coverage,’ according to Eric
Koefoot, vice president of business development for
Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

The Sacramento Bee recently launched two wireless offerings. It is
sending local news to Palm devices with one, and to cell phones and
pagers with the other. It sends a report each morning and updates it
twice during the day.

Even smaller papers, such as The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel, are
offering wireless services. It is currently sending the ‘Handheld
Edition’ of the paper to 270 Palm Piloters. Users can select from six
different categories of content: general news, politics, sports,
weather, business, and traffic reports.

All of these fledgling services are reaching out to a growing audience.
There are 76 million wireless users in the United States, and 50,000
sign up every day, according to Cox Interactive Media. In Europe and
Japan, the news services target the cell phone audience, but in this
country, Palm Pilots and similar devices have taken off.

The question is, how many wireless users will sign up for newspaper
content? The problem is: newspapers are competing with many others to
deliver wireless content – from Internet giants, such as Yahoo!, to
media outlets, such as ABCNews.com, to the wireless carriers
themselves, such as AT&T.

‘Publishers have to apply their substantial editorial and marketing
talents to create information services that are both relevant and
tactical to wireless users,’ says Melinda Gipson, director of new-media
business at the Newspaper Association of America, who wrote ‘A Menu for
the Mobile Millennium,’ a white paper on the subject. ‘Local weather,
movie listings, traffic updates, and the like are the kind of content
that will play in this environment,’ she says.

‘When it comes down to it,’ The Sacramento Bee’s Ed Canale says, ‘local
news is the best way of differentiating cell phone and pager services.’

Newspapers are partnering with a variety of companies that deliver the
content to wireless devices. The major player is San Mateo, Calif.-

based AvantGo, which has teamed up with The New York Times, the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, and many other papers.
Atlanta-based AnyDevice.com delivers content for Cox Interactive, and
Vienna, Va.-based MicroStrategy delivers it for Belo.

The companies differ according to the types of wireless devices they
deliver to and the additional services they perform. MicroStrategy
works with papers to create local content. ‘Our next step is to
incorporate our financial experts into [My-Finance] so it has a local
perspective,’ says Flory Bramnick, vice president of business
development at Belo Interactive.

All of the content is provided for free – which prompts another major
question: how are newspapers going to profit from it? Canale says the
Bee receives royalties from Verizon, one of its content distributors,
whose customers pay a monthly fee that is shared with the Bee. But it’s
a small revenue stream, because there are few subscribers. ‘If the day
comes when there’s 100,000 people using the service, it will be big,’
he says.

Ads on the small screen

Meanwhile, the prospects for attaching advertising to wireless content
are dim, for now. ‘The opportunity for advertising is slim, because the
medium is constrained with a postage-stamp-size display,’ says James
Calloway, executive vice president of business development at Nando,
the online publishing division of the McClatchy Co.

‘Wireless phones are limited by their tiny size, their small bandwidth,
and their lack of color, sound, and video,’ adds Jeff Moore, an analyst
at Current Analysis, a Sterling, Va.-based provider of online
intelligence for sales and marketing professionals.

The only types of advertising wireless devices accommodate are brief
lines of text or clickable links. ‘Banner ads dominate on the Net, but
with wireless it will have to be different,’ Moore says. The physical
limitations of wireless technology aren’t the only barriers to
advertising. Another is the limited wireless audience, which makes the
market too small to support advertising. ‘We don’t have enough users to
get a sponsor,’ says Jonathan Bell, senior Web designer at The
Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Then there is the fact that many wireless users pay fees to receive
local content, which means they would pay for the advertising they
receive. ‘Some people pay per digit of info,’ wsj.com’s Kilgore points
out, ‘so if there was an advertising message, they’d have to pay for


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