Trib Total Media unveils AI-powered ad platform to empower local media


Publishers and the news industry know why they have trouble increasing and even maintaining their ad revenue: The tech giants have been grabbing much of it for years. According to Statista, Google and Meta will account for 44.8% of all 2024 digital ad revenue in the United States. BIA Advisory Services forecasts a total of $175.6 billion in 2024 local ad revenue. Traditional media’s share will be 52.2% ($91.5 billion), and digital media’s share will be 47.8% ($84.1 billion).

There are plenty of ad dollars, but publishers also need advanced tech tools to compete with tech giants and their technologies. Trib Total Media, serving the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania region, is confident it has those tools. Adding AI technology will allow publishers of any size to regain the ad dollars they’ve lost.

In early 2024, Trib Total Media launched the third component in its three-part strategy, OwnLocal and its AI-powered, automated digital ad platform for local media. The first component is the domain authority of the TribLIVE Local network of 35 hyper-local news sites. The second component is MeSearch, a backend data platform that, among other tasks, can analyze content and match it to readers’ interests and viewing habits. Trib Total Media partnered with MeSearch in 2019 with an early version of the technology and owns a share of the company.

“With our strategy, we are building neighborhood ecosystems and connecting them into a large publishing network that allows publishers to retain 85% of the revenue, instead of publishers creating all the value for big tech and keeping only less than 15% of the revenue. Once we roll this out to enough publishers, it becomes a large ad network, including sponsored content, so publishers retain the lion’s share of revenue. That changes the game for every publisher,” Joe Lawrence, CEO of MeSearch and vice president at Trib Total Media, said.

Building on the brand and reader base

Matt Miller, chief revenue officer of Trib Total Media

As the primary news source in the Pittsburgh region for decades, Trib Total Media has evolved a hyper-local news delivery approach. Its 11 weekly and five monthly newspapers have well-established reader bases, and each has a dedicated TribLive Local site. According to Matt Miller, chief revenue officer of Trib Total Media, another 19 communities were identified that were not receiving adequate news coverage and now also have dedicated sites.

“Our existing weekly and monthly newspapers were already serving their respective markets effectively. However, we recognized the need to extend our reach, which is why we identified and included additional markets experiencing a lack of local news and introduced hyper-local websites to fulfill their needs for reliable news and information,” Miller said.

Trib Total Media launched TribLive Local network of 35 hyperlocal news sites as the first strategy of their current AI-powered, automated digital ad platform for local media. Collectively, those hyper-local sites attract more than three million unique visitors and 30 million page views monthly throughout the Pittsburgh DMA.

Collectively, those hyper-local sites attract more than three million unique visitors and 30 million page views monthly throughout the Pittsburgh DMA. That network of sites is the foundation for integrating with MeSearch and OwnLocal AI technologies.

Not only does the MeSearch tool deliver content to readers based on first-party data about what they’ve previously read, but it’s also a research tool for reporters. Lawrence explained a Trib reporter can interface with MeSearch directly to obtain the latest information about the Pittsburgh-area community that is his or her beat. MeSearch is scanning hundreds of websites for information about all local communities constantly.

“The writer can pull components, find sources and then write an article with real-time information. Instead of being a reader who obtains content assembled for publication, the writer is obtaining all kinds of information assembled for them to craft something to be produced,” Lawrence said.

Making sponsored content easy and profitable

TribLive’s partner FYZICAL Monroeville’s partner page has sponsored content articles like this one.

Sponsored content (or advertorials) is a primary element of the content marketing concept. Many publishers and news sites offer to create and publish sponsored content for local businesses. Sponsored content generates revenue for publishers, but the process of writing, managing and publishing it has proven labor-intensive and costly.

Because of MeSearch’s proven benefits for Trib reporters and readers, Trib Total Media partnered with OwnLocal to create and publish sponsored content with AI technology that is much easier for Trib and local businesses and for much less cost.

“The OwnLocal tool still utilizes the MeSearch backend and replaces the prototype version of those hyper-local sites, creating a new platform that could be turned on for any publisher. The OwnLocal product is also helping businesses automate and regularly schedule sponsored content that flows into the platform and lives on the business’ verified directory pages,” Lawrence said.

Partner News articles live on each of TribLive’s community web pages.

Miller added that Trib’s research indicated a strong interest among local businesses in investing in sponsored content to expand their digital presence, but they needed more time and resources. The solution was an article generation tool that significantly reduced the barriers to entry, making it feasible and attractive for businesses of all sizes to participate.

“MeSearch technology complements our article generation tool by focusing on content delivery and personalization rather than content creation. Once customers have used the tool to produce articles, announce events or design coupons, MeSearch will deliver the most relevant content to each reader. It’s about delivering the right content to the right user, ensuring a bespoke reading experience that caters to our audience’s specific interests and needs,” Miller said.

Lloyd Armbrust, CEO of OwnLocal

Founded in 2008, OwnLocal partners with approximately 3,000 publishers globally, such as Shaw Media, News Corp. and Wick Communication, with tech tools to maximize their ad revenues.

“The reason I started the company was to make newspapers sustainable. We want to take money from Facebook and Google. Newspapers buy ads on Facebook and Google, but the money they make goes to fund journalism. It’s more mission-oriented, and I think it’s important. We also want to access the 90% of businesses that aren’t buying print ads,” Lloyd Armbrust, CEO of OwnLocal, said.

An advertiser’s sponsored content experience with Trib’s AI technology

Adam Dunhoff, co-owner of Route 30 Retro, Jeannette, Pennsylvania, and part-time manager and social media content creator for Weiss Furniture, Latrobe, Pennsylvania

Adam Dunhoff is the co-owner of Route 30 Retro, featuring many vintage and retro items. It’s located in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, approximately 30 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh. He is also a member of the Dunhoff family, which owns Weiss Furniture in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and works on its advertising campaigns. The store has been a regular Trib advertiser for years.

Dunhoff and his partner at Route 30 Retro attended a seminar where Trib Total Media introduced its sponsored content and Partner News packages. He quickly recognized the concept’s value for both the vintage store and Weiss Furniture.

“It would help greatly with the vintage store. We could write about movie props in the store that can be seen in various films and TV shows. It would just streamline everything. It will also help Weiss Furniture to create some custom content because it’s very difficult to write about the same brown couch every year,” Dunhoff said.

Each TribLive Partner has their own partner page, where they can tell their story. And their sponsored content articles also appear on this page.

Dunhoff added that he could work directly on his articles on his cell phone. It allows him to keep notes and add more descriptions and information to the stories. He said he would add links to each News Partner article on his and Weiss’s websites and connect them to their TikTok, Instagram and YouTube pages to create some clickbacks.

“The app even updates me and shares ideas about how to write certain articles and ideas for articles. It’s kind of like an assistant — an AI assistant on the side,” Dunhoff said.

New users/advertisers sign up for the service, which then offers some examples of titles and topics for their first articles. Once an advertiser has selected a title via their cell phone, the AI tool recommends several sections for the article. The advertiser writes the sponsored content article and is sent the draft for review. OwnLocal has a network of hundreds of editors who review and polish the articles.

Trib’s promo page for the Partner News Program outlines the benefits of the program.

Trib Total Media’s starting Partner News fee is $19 monthly, making it very affordable. There are also upsell mechanisms so News Partners can expose their sponsored content to a larger audience.

During the first few weeks of the News Partner sponsored content program, Armbrust said 63 advertisers joined almost immediately and started writing articles, which generated approximately $20,000 in revenue.

When asked what advice he would share with other publishers and chief revenue officers about considering this sponsored content technology, Miller said, “I believe it’s crucial to continually embrace bold strategies. We must take big swings. I’m not convinced there’s a single solution or remedy for newspapers; instead, a spectrum of strategic changes is essential to stay ahead. I hope the industry will collectively explore similar initiatives and, more importantly, push the boundaries of innovation to create solutions that benefit the entire newspaper industry.”

Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010.  He can be reached at


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