Media Companies Focus on Marketing Their Publishing Platforms to Others

Vox Media and The Washington Post Look for Paying Customers

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Jim Bankoff, chairman and chief executive officer of Vox Media, speaks during the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Tex., on Saturday.
Jim Bankoff, chairman and chief executive officer of Vox Media, speaks during the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Tex., on Saturday. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In the search for new revenue streams, publishers including Vox Media and The Washington Post are hoping to interest other companies in the content management systems they've built in-house.

At the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Tex., Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff on Saturday provided a four-point plan for growing the company, including strengthening the company's brands beyond their own websites and helping marketers do the same. Vox brands include The Verge and Eater.

"The third thing that we need to do is extend our technology platforms beyond our own walls," Mr. Bankoff said. Many people in digital media consider Vox's Chorus platform its "secret sauce," differentiating it from rivals.

Vox Media, Mr. Bankoff said, wants to "not only improve the products that we're creating with our brand names on them, but how we think we can leverage those capabilities to other entities, particularly in the advertising realm."

Earlier Saturday, Washington Post Chief Information Officer Shailesh Prakash gave a progress report on the company's Arc platform, which the company describes as "a powerful suite of publishing tools custom built for the modern newsroom by engineers at The Washington Post."

Arc has already been leased to eight college newspapers around the country for testing. But the college program has now been paused, Mr. Prakash said, as the company focuses its attention on landing paying customers.

The Post has announced five such clients so far and says it has signed about that many more that it hasn't announced. In October, the Post said Willamette Week had become the company's first licensing client for Arc.

There is no upfront cost to license Arc, with licensees paying based on their traffic, storage, and professional service needs, Mr. Prakash said.

Profit is not the Post's short-term objective for Arc, though Mr. Prakash said that's the ultimate goal. "We are not in it, at this time, to make money," he said.

As Mr. Bankoff mentioned Saturday, Vox first jumped into the platform-licensing waters last year when it introduced Chorus for Advertisers, a system for creating, distributing and measuring branded content, at an event during the digital media industry's NewFronts.

DigitasLBi signed on to offer Chorus to its marketer clients, and used it in in a campaign for Lenovo, Fantasy Online College, that ran through the NFL season.

Nicole Estebanell, senior VP and group media director for DigitasLBi, praised Chorus for Advertisers in a recent interview with Ad Age. "I think it's always interesting when a new platform launches, and or an agency partnership is announced, because sometimes the hope of what it can deliver doesn't always manifest itself in the way you'd like," she said. That hasn't been the case here, she said.

While "nothing is a silver bullet," Ms. Estebanell said that Chorus for Advertisers helped optimize the content created for the campaign, and played a meaningful role in social amplification.

"What we're not interested in doing is being a loanable CMS for brands," Vox Media Global Head of Brand Strategy Lindsay Nelson told Ad Age in February, when asked for an update on Chorus for Advertisers.

Rather, she said, "The way that we've been working with brands is in more of a hybrid approach. ... They want great content that reaches the right audience at the right time. I think that most of our partners have found that we're much better suited to do that on their behalf."

Vox Media, she said, doesn't "just send an Excel spreadsheet," but rather provides brands with actionable, analytics-based insights.

While both Vox and the Post are bullish on their chances of making money off their technology, some companies, like Gawker Media, have pulled back.

In a November 2015 memo, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton said the company would suspend efforts to develop and license its proprietary Kinja platform, "given the competition that exists from technology companies devoted entirely to that challenge."

Gawker's pivot only added fuel to the fire of critics that long been skeptical about the revenue potential of platform-licensing.

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