|Growing numbers of online news organizations now offer free RSS feeds of their stories and features. Readers can sign up for specific feeds and automatically receive updates with links about the latest stories on that topic. Washingtonpost.com now offers subscribers more than 150 feeds to choose from and is beginning to sell ads into the syndication service. (The feed icons shown above are labeled 'XML' because the feed technology is based on the XML coding system, which is similar to but different from HTML.)
RSS was originally created by Netscape as a "Rich Site Summary" technology but is now best known as a "Really Simple Syndication" system for online readers. It is an increasingly popular way to automatically gather information from the Internet and deliver it to a computer’s browser. In some ways, it’s like a search engine, enabling an individual to define the kind of information he or she wants to receive as it is published across the Internet each day.
RSS is most frequently a stream of text information -- headline links, short synopses and excerpts from blogs -- to which other kinds of files can also be attached. RSS feeds function something like a private wire service, bringing subscribers daily updates about a particular topic.
More than 150 feeds
Washingtonpost.com, part of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive -- the online publishing subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. -- offers more than 150 feeds, with politics and opinion sections among the most popular.
RSS advertisements are typically bare-bones text ads, but increasingly HTML ads are used. The key, according to most online marketers, is placing the ads near relevant content -- one reason the Washingtonpost.com feed appealed to Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest USA, which negotiated the deal for MSNBC.
Ad-supported RSS feeds aren’t new -- Yahoo and Google have both been experimenting with ad-supported RSS feeds, and companies such as Pheedo have created RSS advertising networks and blue-chip marketers like American Express, Continental Airlines and Verizon have started to take advantage. But Washingtonpost.com’s foray into the field is significant in that it foreshadows a future in which mainstream news organizations will compete more directly with search engines and blogs for new media dollars.
And part of the reason MediaVest got in now was to help lay the foundation for that future, said Mohan Renganathan, associate director of digital strategy for the agency.
How deal evolved
This particular ad deal evolved as MediaVest was looking for new technological means to reach the politicos and news junkies its client, MSNBC, wanted to target. After several discussions with Washingtonpost.com, Mr. Renganathan convinced MSNBC to try it out as a new ad platform.
When a user clicks on an article in the presence of a text ad, it brings the user to an intermediary advertisement, called an interstitial. There is also an area within the ad that lets the user sign up for MSNBC’s own RSS feed.
Capped ad frequency
But this deal is starting out slowly: to keep from interrupting and annoying the end user, Washingtonpost.com and MediaVest capped the ad frequency at every 3 1/2 to four days, meaning that an RSS user will only see an MSNBC ad once or maybe twice a week. Washingtonpost.com also established a feedback button to allow RSS users a platform to air their opinions on the new advertising model and help direct the company in future RSS advertising expansion.