As Ad Revenue Slips Again, New York Times CEO Calls This 'A Critical Year'

Thompson Promises New Ad Products, More Video and a Focus on Ad Tech

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Wait 'til this year was the message New York Times CEO Mark Thompson sent to investors on Thursday after the company posted its 13th straight quarterly decline in ad revenue.

The New York Times Building
The New York Times Building Credit: Renzo Piano Building Workshop

"This will be a critical year in the story of advertising at the company," he said.

Ad revenue at the Times declined 1.3% in the fourth quarter compared to the same period last year, with digital holding essentially flat with a 0.2% drop and print off 1.6%. That's an improvement from previous quarters in 2013, when ad-revenue losses were steeper, but not yet the kind of growth that the Times needs to rediscover.

As it has in the past, the Times said programmatic ad tech and a "glut" of online inventory were undermining its digital ad revenue.

Print luxury advertising was down in the fourth quarter because of declines from jewelry and international fashion advertisers, according to Meredith Kopit Levien, the Times' head of ad sales. American fashion posted strong results, she said.

There was growth in print ads for home furnishings, energy companies, live entertainment and books, which saw a boost thanks to the Times revamped book section, Ms. Kopit Levien told investors.

The Times said it expects ad revenue in the first quarter of 2013 to be roughly the same as in the fourth quarter. Mr. Thompson said the native ad units it introduced in January, part of an industrywide trend toward ads that mimic the surrounding editorial content to one degree or another, are already driving increased advertising revenue.

The Times has gone to great lengths to clearly label its native ads as such, something it "remains committed to," he said. "But we're also heavily focused on advertising innovation as traditional banner advertising becomes a smaller contributor to revenue industry wide."

The Times plans to introduce "new digital advertising products" in the coming months and to focus on ad tech in the year ahead, Mr. Thompson said. "We will apply greater focus to mobile monetization, seek to expand our high CPM video inventory and develop more sophisticated audience targeting capabilities," he added.

Mobile ad revenue is still only a "modest percentage" of the overall, the company said. Video is also in the early stages, Mr. Thompson noted. "We've got a long build on video," he said.

Advertising losses were partially offset by the addition of 33,000 digital-only subscribers. Total revenue for the fourth quarter increased 0.4% compared with the quarter a year earlier. Circulation revenue climbed 2.7% thanks to an increase in prices for home delivery as well as a 19% boost in digital subscriptions. The Times now has about 760,000 digital subscribers, it said.

It plans to roll out lower and higher-priced subscription products in the second quarter of this year. Currently, the cheapest digital subscription costs $15 every four weeks; the most expensive is $35.

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