'BusinessWeek’ looks to unusual distribution points

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As it struggles on the print advertising front, BusinessWeek is taking steps to distribute its content through alternative media.

At the Interactive Media Conference in Miami late last month, John Byrne, executive editor of BusinessWeek, said the publication is considering creating a “business YouTube.” He said is looking at introducing an online video contest that would invite anyone with an idea for a new business to submit a plan on the site, with the chance of landing $500,000 in venture funding.

Users would rate each proposal and vote on the winner, who would receive the money from a VC firm to invest in the proposed business.

To create the online video hub, BusinessWeek owner McGraw-Hill Cos. may purchase a new technology platform, Byrne said. He declined to comment beyond the statements he made at the Interactive Media Conference.

Ad revenue for BusinessWeek rose 2.2% in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2006, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, while ad pages fell 3%. In 2006, ad revenue declined 6.6% and ad pages were relatively flat.

For print-based media companies, developing online video is an imperative, said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer.

According to eMarketer, ad spending on online video in the U.S. will grow to 11.5% of total online ad spending by 2010, up from 4.2% this year.

“I doubt this was lodged off the cuff,” Williamson said, referring to Byrne’s comments. “Developing an online video contest might help BusinessWeek in attracting emerging businesses and VC markets more so than it already has.”

However, Jeff Reinhardt, managing director of media investment bank Berkery, Noyes & Co., said that if BusinessWeek were to pursue a YouTube strategy, “it might do better to run larger stories that will generate a bigger audience than a VC contest, which is a niche audience within BusinessWeek.”

Meanwhile, BusinessWeek is spreading its marketing wings in other areas.

This month, laminated columns from the magazine started appearing on tray tables in economy class on US Airways flights in the Northeast corridor. Eventually the BusinessWeek content will be coupled with ads sold by marketing firm Brand Connections. The content is being updated monthly, and the program will eventually be extended to first class.

The trays currently feature columns by former General Electric Co. chairman Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy Welch; wine connoisseur Robert Parker; and CNBC “Closing Bell” anchor Maria Bartiromo. The magazine is looking to expand the content to possibly include tech columns as well as business rankings and listings.

“It’s more of a branding push than a circ effort, per se,” said Noelle Cleary, marketing director of BusinessWeek. “I’m hoping people will see the content on the tray tables and that will cause them to pick up the magazine or read more online.”

Brian Martin, CEO and founder of Brand Connections, said running content on airline tray tables is bound to take off as a new advertising vehicle.

“This is not about flipping through a magazine the airline provides, but national brands reaching people who are strapped in for four of five hours and who are receptive to the content,” he said.

Martin declined to give the names of advertisers that have been booked to appear on the trays.

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