Did Wired Just Create the 'Snow Fall' of Native Advertising for Netflix?

Magazine's In-House Team Is Behind the Elaborate Ad

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A Netflix sponsored post on Wired.com is reminiscent of The New York Times' groundbreaking feature
A Netflix sponsored post on Wired.com is reminiscent of The New York Times' groundbreaking feature

For a new feature on the way technology like streaming video is fueling TV's current golden age, Wired magazine tapped anthropologist and author Grant McCracken. The result, which went live on Wired.com this week, is a deeply immersive experience with text, charts and video.

It's also a native ad for Netflix, with a persistent "Sponsor Content" label to avoid confusion.

It's similar in design to The New York Times' award-winning "Snow Fall" feature, a lavishly designed account of a deadly avalanche that included video, interactive maps and animation. The biggest knock on "Snow Fall," like the imitations that followed, was that the advertising didn't live up to the editorial presentation, with ugly standard banner ads occasionally interrupting the story.

But "TV Got Better" is the advertising. Although not as extensive or obviously expensive as "Snow Fall" itself, which the Times spent months building, "TV Got Better" unfurls as readers scroll through the article, revealing a video interview with "Arrested Development" co-creator Mitch Hurwitz (whose show got a new life on Netflix), a timeline of TV's milestones, an audio recording of the author, a reader poll and more.

One multimedia element shows how many hours of TV people have watched since opening the story.

Howard Mittman, VP-publisher at Wired, declined to say how much it cost the magazine to produce the article, nor how much Netflix paid for the ad. "It was a significant investment," he said. The article is not part of a broader print buy from Netflix.

"I think it really achieves our mission of building branded content that's really just great content," Mr. Mittman said.

The Netflix sponsored post marks the continued evolution of native ad units, which are designed to draw readers' interest by mimicking the editorial content surrounding it (and by not looking much like ads). Sites like Vox's The Verge and Say Media's ReadWrite have in recent years produced richly designed native-ad units, but many native ads are basically text advertorials that live or die on what they say. Others include interactive elements but don't rise to the level of a comparison to, for example, "Snow Fall."

Wired plans to promote the post on social media as well as across Wired's various digital properties, according to Mr. Mittman.

Netflix did not respond to an email request for comment.

Wired is owned by Conde Nast, which also publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Wired, the only magazine among Conde Nast's stable of titles that draws 50% of its ad revenue from digital sales, has proven ambitious in the native ad space, where roughly 30% of its revenue includes some native elements. Last August, it rolled out a separate division called Amplifi that's focused on developing native content for brands that will appeal to the Wired audience.

Amplifi includes a bullpen of writers, filmmakers and others who Wired taps to produce native ads for brands, but Mr. McCracken was selected by Netflix. Last year, Netflix worked with the anthropologist on a study that sought to understood the habits of TV watchers.

Wired has previously produced a free tablet magazine with Cisco called The Connective. A second version -- The Connective 2.0 -- rolled out Thursday, with contributions from big names such as Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz as well as an interactive ad unit designed by Goodby Silverstein & Partners that's tailored to individual readers using a live data feed.

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