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Panel: Social, video and mobile media heat up

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New York—A panel of online media executives at Digital Directions Day on Tuesday discussed the long-term value of Web communities and social media, as well as video and mobile content, even though these areas are not yet well-developed in b-to-b online media.

Bob Felsenthal, publisher of BtoB and Media Business, kicked off the Top Ideas for Generating Online Revenue panel by noting that business media companies are investing in social networking and social media capabilities on their sites although it is still not clear when, how or even if these features can be monetized on a large scale.

For CNNMoney.com, social media is monetized indirectly, said Jonathan Shar, senior VP-general manager of Time Warner’s CNNMoney. “It allows us to build out content on vertical topics, such as small business, and create engagement within that community. That audience can then be served targeted advertising.”

Jeff DeBalko, chief Internet officer of Reed Business Information-US (RBI-US) and president of Reed Business Interactive, said marketers are not necessarily looking to sponsor social media on one of RBI-US’ Web sites, but “they always ask about it. When we’re pitching large, integrated programs, social media is definitely a hook.”

“It can be a trap to look for ROI in social media in the first or second year,” said Alex Kam, VP-digital media at Incisive Media. “In the near term, we look at it as an investment, although we have some ideas of how we’ll eventually monetize it.”

In addition to social media, broadband-delivered video is becoming a hot area for b-to-b media companies.

CNNMoney.com serves up 20 million video streams a month on a global basis, Shar said. “We have been highly successful selling sponsorships to certain types of content, such as small business, because marketers want to associate themselves with this type of content. So a sponsor will ‘own’ the editorial video on that topic whenever it appears, whether it’s for one minute or two-and-a-half minutes,” he said.

“For video of that length, the sweet spot for a preroll ad is 15 seconds.”

“At the moment, everything we do in video is paid for by someone,” Kam said, explaining that law firms sponsor video that is used as a promotional tool. “Also, this year we started streaming live courtroom proceedings [that viewers pay to watch]. These are essentially work-flow tools for lawyers.”

Although there are obstacles to monetizing business media content on mobile devices, panelists said they are working to develop their mobile capabilities.

“People will look back on 2008 as the breakout year for mobile,” said Jeff Giesea, president of FierceMarkets. “Two weeks ago, we launched a branded RSS reader for mobile devices, and we definitely think we can monetize it right away.”

“We launched the first mobile site in our company a few weeks ago for Twice.com,” DeBalko said. “Because they cover consumer electronics, that group wanted their brand associated with mobile media.”

At Incisive, where subscription content is a major revenue source, “we want to use mobile capability to sustain the value of that subscription,” Kam said.

Digital Directions Day, held at the Hilton New York, attracted more than 140 publishing professionals.

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