Special Report: Media Mavens 2012

Media Mavens: Michael Zimbalist, The New York Times Co.

Goal of Research Exec Is Not Just to Create New Products, But to Unearth New Business Models

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Michael Zimbalist
Michael Zimbalist

Résumé: Prior to joining The New York Times Co. as VP-research and development operations, Michael Zimbalist was the president of the Online Publishers Association from 2001 and 2006. He is also one of the group's co-founders.

Challenge: Mr. Zimbalist has spent the last few years heading up a team that has created prototypes for new products such as News.me and the "magic mirror." Now it's time to build businesses around the lab's innovations.

Quick fact: Early in his career, Mr. Zimbalist worked for Walt Disney Imagineering.

When the New York Times Co. announced this April that it would begin commercializing some of its R&D Lab innovations, Mr. Zimbalist was thrilled. Now, the pressure is on.

Since launching the company's R&D Lab in 2006, Mr. Zimbalist has overseen an idea factory that has become a model for innovation centers run by big media companies. But while the lab has helped to add a tech shine to The Times brand, it has had little tangible impact on the company's top line.

Now, with the go-ahead from Times management to create the New Ventures group to start turning these innovations into revenue, Mr. Zimbalist and his team of about two dozen are invigorated. Two products have gone to market thus far. Cascade, which gives publishers a visual glimpse into how their content spreads on Twitter; and Ricochet, which lets advertisers choose to only tie their online ads to individual Times articles that they find relevant.

Along the way, Mr. Zimbalist is aiming not just to simply create new products, but to unearth new business models as well.

"Discovering those formats and product innovations that can be truly transformational vs. those that are incremental is the hardest to do," he said.

Which begs the question: Are incremental advancements even OK at company like The Times? "Incremental advancements are accepted," he said. "But the transformational innovation is what I aspire to."

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