Deadspin's blockbuster article revealing that the girlfriend of star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o never existed eclipsed 3.5 million views Thursday evening. But at least in the short term, Deadspin parent company Gawker Media is not cashing in on all those eyeballs.
Gawker Media doesn't regularly work with third-party resellers of ad space (although it has, in the past, experimented with retargeters such as Criteo), so its advertising department had no easy way to sell all the new ad space that the onslaught of page views opened up Wednesday evening.
"Because we don't run any networks or remnant inventory, it's impossible for us to monetize these spikes unless we're already oversold," Gawker Media Chief Advertising Officer Andrew Gorenstein said in an email.
Since Deadspin wasn't oversold, Deadspin couldn't run as many ads as it would have liked.
But Deadspin isn't alone. Web publishers have traditionally had trouble making money off of sudden surges in visits to their site. The rise of real-time bidding for ad space on exchanges can help publishers find buyers for unexpected supply, but the trade-off is often a much lower price for those ads.
Still, the Gawker Media ad team seems to acknowledge that it can't continue to let these opportunities go unmonetized, and says it is exploring creating a private ad marketplace as a solution. The private exchange would give the company the ability to gain some control over which advertisers, or categories of ad buyers, would have the ability to bid on unexpected ad space and at what price they could do so.
"[W]e hope to have a technical solution in place in the coming months to better handle situations like this," James Del, Gawker Media's advertising director, wrote in a follow-up email.
With a good deal of attention still on the story Thursday morning, Gawker's ad team tried to sell a new ad package the traditional way for a "TV tune-in" campaign. But, alas, it didn't work out.
"So after an afternoon of back and forth with one of our partners, the agency and client unfortunately weren't able to pull together the budget and creative fast enough to capitalize on the story," Mr. Del wrote Thursday afternoon. He would not disclose the advertiser.
That failed attempt goes to show that for all the innovation going on in digital media and marketing right now, the agency-advertiser approval process can still derail great opportunities to align a brand with the most popular online conversations at the time.
These situations can be challenging for the Gawker Media advertising department for another reason: Gawker Media articles that contain certain flagged phrases -- such as "dead" -- trigger an alert that removes all ads on the page. While not perfect, the system helps Gawker make sure its advertisers don't have ads running next to the most controversial of posts. In this instance, the sales team quickly made the call that the article was safe to run ads against, but the web page this reporter was looking at still was ad-free for about the first 30 minutes after the article posted.
Still, Mr. Gorenstein and Mr. Del argued that the real value from an article like this can only be evaluated over the long run. Breaking monster stories on a consistent basis, they argued, builds credibility, with the chance to turn some of the new readers into repeat visitors.
Plus, Deadspin may have made a lifelong supporter along the way. Comedian Nick Kroll, whose ads for his Comedy Central series happened to be running on the site on Wednesday, took to Twitter to express his gratitude.
"Thx, @deadspin," he wrote.