Real-time, Relevant Ads Matched With Real-time News? What a Concept!

By: Steve Outing By now, it's an ugly truth etched in most news executives' minds: For every dollar that a newspaper?s print edition can bring in from advertisers, the equivalent online ad income is about 10 cents.

Dollars to dimes. So goes the newspaper business as it is forced to transition more and more to the digital side, as fewer advertisers are willing to pay the high rates that publishers historically have been able to charge print advertisers. The Internet and digital media are far more efficient, and advertisers can spend less and get better results.

While I do not think that newspaper publishers will be able to get that ?dollar? for online and digital advertising -- the media landscape is too fragmented now -- there's potential to move that dime figure upward and generate more audience traffic, such that incoming ad revenues are a big improvement over what most newspaper Web sites earn today.

One solution: Much better, and more timely (as in real-time), matching of news content with relevant ads online.

A beginning in Boulder

Recently I visited with Kimbal Musk, CEO of a company local to me, Boulder-based Oneriot to learn about a new service that has now been released: RiotWise. The company describes the service as a way to "monetize the real-time Web."

RiotWise at its introduction isn't as exciting for news publishers as its potential. But looking at the potential of a model that serves up real-time ads to accompany relevant real-time content, I'm feeling a bit more optimistic about the future of Web advertising, and that could ultimately be helpful to news companies.

To understand RiotWise, you first have to know that OneRiot is a real-time search engine with which you can find out what's the most important stuff going on for a topic right now. It crawls links that people share on Twitter, Digg and other social sharing services, then very quickly indexes the content on those pages. It fills in the hole left by other search engines like Google, which typically don't surface current trends quickly.

Here's a good description of why companies like OneRiot can exist outside Google's giant search shadow, by Clive Thompson in Wired: "Pundits call it the real-time Web. It's upending the Internet as we've known it, and it's not something that Google can easily dominate."

In other words, increasingly the Web's most interesting content is what our friends and other people are talking about, sharing and looking at right now. Now we're getting tools to discover that, nearly instantly. In addition to OneRiot, there's also Collecta and

On OneRiot, for example, search for "NFL" and you'll see links to the stories getting the most tweets, diggs and other mentions on social-sharing services about the National Football League. You'll see what stories are making the rounds on the social Web much faster than you'll see them appear on, say, Google News. And while Google News is using algorithms to decide what news is most important today (about the NFL or any other topic or category), OneRiot's search engine is using the most recent recommendations of human beings who are sharing stories on Twitter, et al.

RiotWise comes in as an advertising adjunct to those real-time search results. On the search for NFL results page in the link above, you'll notice in the right column "Featured Content" and some article links below. Those links are essentially paid ads for other Web sites' content (filtered from the sites' feeds) that are related to the NFL natural search results presented in the main column by OneRiot's social search engine.

According to Musk, the idea is that as Web users seek out the latest stories on a topic (e.g., the NFL), the RiotWise service is adding in current related NFL stories from other publishers who want to get more traffic. It's somewhat akin to a Google Web search, where Google displays AdWords ads from its database of paying advertisers next to relevant user searches. AdWords work so well because a Google user is searching for something specific, and Google places ads for products and services that match or closely match the search. The ads are relevant to what the searcher is looking for, and the user is in search mode. It's a great fit.

RiotWise is similar. The OneRiot social searcher is looking for current popular articles on a specific topic, and RiotWise can insert links to similar stories on the same topic from other publishers that want quality traffic. This can be particularly useful to publishers who have content to sell -- say, an NFL insider newsletter that's looking for football fans rabid enough about the sport that they might pay for a subscription to the newsletter. So RiotWise might include links to new stories from the newsletter (via a feed from the newsletter publisher), which when clicked leads the searcher to the newsletter site's first two paragraphs of a story, and exposes the football fan to the paid subscription offer.

The promise of what's coming
That's today. It's what RiotWise can become in the future that's more exciting for the news industry.

Musk sees the next step in the RiotWise service utilizing the same instant matching technology to place contextually relevant real-time ads next to real-time content. But this can go beyond what services like Google's AdSense can offer.

With AdSense, a participating publisher might run a block of AdSense ads on its site. The site publishes a story on the Denver Broncos, and Google finds ads for the AdSense block on that page for things like football ticket sales, NFL merchandise, etc. -- ads that AdWords advertisers have put into the system.

RiotWise in the future represents the next, faster step. It's a technology that can recognize that a particular story is rising in popularity on Twitter and other social-sharing services, then insert relevant, fresh ads from an advertiser's RSS feed.

This model should work particularly well for news publishers when something really big happens in their backyards. For instance, last week we had the saga of the "Balloon Boy" hoax in Fort Collins, Colo. When a local story like this blows up to dominate the national media and takes off as the dominant topic on Twitter, the local newspaper usually gets a tidal wave of Web traffic and links to its coverage. But the paper's Web site isn't prepared to monetize the traffic spike, typically, and serves up low-CPM remnant ads to the many thousands of new visitors.

In an ideal world, advertisers who could benefit from such a Web traffic tidal wave would be in the system already and their ads shown to the visiting hordes immediately after the story goes viral and the Web site traffic onslaught begins.

It's all about matching content to advertisement, of course, so that high CPM rates can be charged. Balloon Boy isn't the easiest story to monetize, but if RiotWise had a deal with a big magazine company that specialized in celebrity and bizarre news, it could show Balloon Boy readers links to current stories on the Web sites of People, Us or TMZ, for example. The types of readers who might obsess over Balloon Boy coverage also could be likely customers for those other publishers, who would pay a high CPM because of the quality of the referred link traffic to what the publishers have to sell.

Other scenarios
A more concrete example would be for OneRiot to get a sports apparel company (say, Nike) as a client, and having it feed ads for its various products based on the news. So if a famous soccer star kicks a final-second goal to win the game and it's known that he was wearing Nike's Ronaldinho Dois FG Soccer Cleat, and it's the story of the moment with lots of link-mentions on Twitter, Nike's marketing department can feed in an ad to that shoe, or maybe a blog item about the game and the shoe from the Nike blog. That will show up on social searches about the celebrated goal.

Or let's say Boulder Creek here in Boulder floods the city, and links to stories from the local newspaper Web site shoot up on the social sharing services within the region. The wave of short-term traffic and links to that story could be monetized by a deal with a company like ServiceMagic, for example, which refers tradespeople to homeowners in need. So ServiceMagic could feed high-CPM ads for Boulder-area plumbers and disaster clean-up companies to the Web users most likely to be needing those services. Local hardware stores could feed in ads for clean-up supplies and generators.

Musk points out that this will represent a new way of doing business for advertisers, who must learn to create feeds of ad content that are relevant to current events that match what they provide, as in the flood example above.

But best of all, real-time ads on real-time content will soon become a way for news publishers to finally take financial advantage of those big stories that bring in unexpected waves of Web visitors -- and provide a valuable service to appropriate advertisers who can benefit from large audiences likely to be interested in what they offer.

What you can do now
RiotWise is not something you can utilize on your Web site directly yet to bring in new ad revenues, though as the service evolves that should be possible in time. Meanwhile, OneRiot has an open API for developers and Web sites to implement its search functionality.

It's easy to imagine an AdSense-like future for RiotWise, too, with real-time ads placed onto sites directly via OneRiot's technology, instantly matching relevant ads to breaking news.

So keep an eye on where this goes. Real-time ads contextually matched with real-time news just might turn news Web sites' remnant ad space into high-value ad space, which will be particularly lucrative when big news happens in your town.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here