MSNBC.com’s new single-view article page, launched as part of last month’s site redesign, is being heralded as a milestone in the long-awaited “death of the page view.” But the strategy is less about what’s dying than what MSNBC hopes to give life to: a new sales model fueled by multi-unit sponsorships.
The changes come as MSNBC.com faces a challenge that all publishers can relate to: the commoditization of online advertising, driven in large part by ad networks.
“We’ve always been a premium brand, but over the past five years we have become more and more sponsorship-driven in order to differentiate ourselves,” said Kyoo Kim, MSNBC.com’s vice president of sales. “We’re under pressure to create better experiences. Page views are great, volume is great, but we need to be able to tell a better story from an advertiser’s perspective.”
Just as MSNBC.com is aggregating related editorial content – text, video, slide shows and interactive tools – into a single page experience, the sales team is pitching the ability to aggregate all of an advertiser’s campaign elements onto that story page.
“We’re offering the ability for advertisers to tell their story in a richer way,” said Kim.
Kim compares the strategy to a purchase funnel. Near the top of the page is a large-format ad to drive awareness. As the user scrolls down the page – indicating deeper engagement with the article – the creative may include more engaging rich media. At the bottom of the story page, when the user is exposed to related articles, videos, commenting and other interactive tools, the creative also can become more interactive.
Viewable impressions and ad templates
There are two key elements to this approach.
First, the ads that are lower on the page are not served until the user actually scrolls to that portion of the page – virtually guaranteeing exposure and increasing the potential for engagement. The enabling technology, from a company called RealVu, tracks “viewable impressions” – defined as “when the ad content is loaded, rendered and at least 60% of the ad surface area is within the visible area of a viewer’s browser window on an in focus web page for at least one second.”
Second, MSNBC.com is offering ad templates based on the same tools the web team uses to create interactive editorial content.
“We spend so much money running all this interactive content for editorial, we thought, why don’t we make those tools available to our advertisers for their creative?” Kim explained. The templates enable advertisers to integrate their creative and offers more seamlessly with editorial pages.
“The idea is to create an easy way to start pulling in real-time content from advertisers,” he said “We have the expertise for producing content, so we can help them do that.”
Kim said various levels of sponsorships are available, with campaign pricing ranging from $20,000 to $500,000 a month. Pricing, he said, “will still come down to some sort of CPM. But we’re trying to build around engagement. The story really is, how do we enable better storytelling?”
Ahead of the curve
Kim admitted that it will take awhile for the market to catch up with this approach. There’s a complex network of brands, media buyers and agencies that have built a supply chain around CPMs and page views. Very few of MSNBC.com’s advertisers are thinking “holistically,” he said. “Clients always want, want, want, but sometimes they’re not ready,” he added. That would explain why there’s still plenty of run-of-site inventory on article pages from the likes of lowermybills.com, Progressive and, yes, ad networks such as Pulse360.
MSNBC.com may need to make some internal adjustments as well. Kim acknowledged that, entering a new fiscal year, sales managers will be looking at ways to adjust incentive and compensation plans to better reflect the new sales approach.