The New York Times Idea Lab, a 10-person outfit inside the company that partly applies editorial innovations to new online ad products, is introducing new standardized but interactive ad units for its iPad app, the company said Monday.
One ad unit, for example, enables readers to download media from the iTunes store within the ad. Another unit, which The Times said was inspired by panoramas in its editorial coverage, offers a 360-degree panorama of a retail store. It's all part of a broader effort, which the paper is calling TimesAction, to simplify the creation and purchase of rich-media ads in its iPad app, and to allow advertisers to bring many of their ads over from its website to the app.
"We want to bring some of the same interactive and engaging qualities of the best web advertising around into a mobile environment," said Todd Haskell, group VP-advertising at The Times. Previously, most ads that ran on the Times website -- particularly the rich media units -- could not run on the tablet, according to Mr. Haskell. Translating them for tablets was costly and time consuming.
"This is about making it easier for the advertiser to come into our tablet environment," he said.
The key component to TimesAction is the company's adoption of specifications laid out by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The specifications, referred to as mobile rich-media ad interface definitions, or MRAID, were introduced in 2011 and updated in 2012 and 2013, but The Times says it's the first publisher to adopt the standards. When the IAB introduced MRAID, third-party ad vendors were the first to embrace the specifications, creating ads for media including video games and newspaper apps, according to Joe Laszlo, senior director at the IAB's Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence.
The Times declined to disclose pricing for its new ad units.
The effort to make engaging advertising easier on tablets is increasingly important to publishers. Worldwide tablet shipments grew 142.4% in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the same time last year, according to the International Data Corporation. Shipments of Apple's iPad outpaced all others. In April, unique downloads of the Times iPad app hit 8.3 million, the majority of which are on the Apple platform, according to Mr. Haskell.
The Times Co., meanwhile, saw its overall first-quarter ad revenue contract 11.2% from the quarter a year earlier and digital ad revenue drop 4% compared with the previous year. With automated auctions driving down the cost of standard banner ads and more web readers suffering from "banner blindness," publishers have looked for other ways to bolster ad revenue, including selling so-called "native" advertising -- ads similar in form and function to the editorial on a site.
But The Times has avoided a native ad push and instead emphasized creativity in the kinds of web ads it runs. "We actually see remarkably high interaction rates and engagement rates on those ads," Mr. Haskell said.
TimesAction will give advertisers a chance to see these engagement rates. For example, if a reader is using the panorama ad unit to tour the inside of a new store, the advertiser will be able to measure clicks, time spent on the ad, where in the store a reader toured and time spent in that area.
"We think this is going to be really rich and powerful for brands to see how the reader is engaging with their environment in the tablet space," Mr. Haskell said.
In order to see the new ad units, readers of the Times iPad app will need to download the latest update.