Digital Hope Springs Eternal, but Not From the Ad Side

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

Need a reason to be optimistic? Who doesn't? Thankfully, winter is slowly turning into spring. Tiger Woods is back dominating the PGA Tour. And there are signs of life in digital innovation in the media.

But almost all of the inventiveness is coming from the editorial side. Perhaps it's a byproduct of digital-ad-sales teams that are focused on trying to keep ROI-hungry marketers happy. Or, more likely, the transformation is being driven by good old Darwinism.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is director of insights at Edelman Digital.
Take the Sporting News, for example. Sports media, to some degree, is a commodity business. Scores are ubiquitous online, and the weeklies now face competition from bloggers when it comes to analysis, an area they once dominated.

Sporting News last year transitioned into a twice-monthly. More important, in June it introduced a digital daily called Sporting News Today that looks and feels a lot like, well, print. It's a beautifully designed virtual newspaper delivered through RSS or e-mail. The content is fully searchable and is supported by full-page ads that are nearly identical to what you would see in print.

More important, Sporting News Today just may be a hit. According to the publication, circulation has doubled to 150,000 from 75,000 at launch. And major advertisers including Atlantic Coast Conference, Toyota, GMC, Ford, Honda, 2K Sports, Speed TV, Nike and the NFL Network have signed on as well.

Other examples of innovation abound. The New York Times has been dripping out a set of tools for developers that is spawning creations such as NYT Explorer. USA Today, Variety and People all recently rolled out iPhone applications.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. So it's no surprise that with the media ecosystem facing a reforestation, journalists are turning into programmers and slowly revolutionizing how they create and distribute content. But what about the ad-sales side? Unfortunately, there's not a lot to report there.

Now is the time for the publishers to step it up. Pay-per-click advertising was invented last downturn but was popularized by Google, not Time Warner. In this recession, publishers can't sit and wait for the next Google. They need to innovate to come out stronger. Banners are nearing the end of their lifespan, and advertisers will soon come calling for the next big thing.

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