Another Ad You Can’t Ignore: The New York Times Serves Up Old News

The Internet advertising industry is doing it best to grab the attention of Web surfers, who have been trained over the years to tune out the come-ons. Here’s the latest, from the New York Times (NYT): An ad for Canon that swaps out the entire front page of the paper’s business section, replaces it with a black-and-white version of the business section circa June 2009, and then replaces that version with a color version of the same page. Eventually, the ad disappears and you get returned to the old version.

You’ll get the best sense of it if you head to the Times yourself, because it will auto-load, but if for some reason that doesn’t work, here’s a screen-grab I took this morning:

I’m all for the industry trying new stuff, since my paycheck is at least partly dependent on ad dollars. And I  think that outlets like the Times are more likely to succeed with extraordinary, one-off presentations like the one that Apple (AAPL) ran on the cover of the Times and the Wall Street Journal a while back.  And I’m also OK with publishers who allow advertisers to step between me and the stuff I want to see — within reason.

But the execution here seems off: When my screen turns from color to black and white, my first reaction isn’t “Cool, I wonder who sponsored the monochrome?” but “WTF? Is my MacBook busted?” My next reaction: “What happened to the headlines I was just reading?” And the next: “Maybe I should be reading a different site.”

That can’t be what Canon and the Times were hoping for, right?

Another problem: I’m not in the market for a printer (or is it a copier?) and I don’t know that I ever will be. I know that ad buyers don’t really care about that, and that they’re generally trying to reach a very wide swath of people who fall into my general demographic profile.

But if you’re going to make it hard for me to get to the content I want, don’t you want to make sure you’re doing it for a good reason?

Some More Positive Murmurs For Web Ads

sunshine-cloudMore upbeat — but not too ecstatic — chatter about the state of the Internet advertising market this morning from Wall Street: Barclays Capital analyst Douglas Anmuth is raising his estimates for Google (GOOG), citing “improving macro conditions [and] a stronger ad market.”

Anmuth says his research shows an increase in pricing for Google’s search ads over the past few months, particularly in the battered retail and auto sectors. His note comes a couple days after Citigroup’s Mark Mahaney raised his Google estimates, citing a dramatic improvement from mid-August to mid-September.

Other Google bulls: Investors, who have been pushing up the company’s shares since March (they’re now hovering near the $500 mark again) and CEO Eric Schmidt, who declared this week that “it’s clear that the worst is behind us“.

The tempered enthusiasm isn’t limited to Google’s chances, by the way. Mahaney also had good things to say about Yahoo’s (YHOO) chances as the economy recovers. While it’s handing over its search business to Microsoft (MSFT), Carol Bartz and crew still dominate the display ad business, and that should be picking up as well, he said.

It is worth noting that Yahoo executives themselves were more cautious this week when asked to describe market trends: At an Advertising Week press conference, Bartz brought out her “still bumping along the bottom” line, while EVP Hilary Schneider said ad sales had stabilized but that she “wouldn’t go so far as to say as we’re seeing a full recovery.”

Good News, T. Rowe Price! Twitter Users Really, Really Love Ads.

times-squareSo now that Twitter has its $1 billion valuation (and another $100 million in cash, not the $50 million that I’d previously heard), how is the revenue-free company going to start making money?

The perennial, and obvious solution, is to incorporate ads into the service, but so far Twitter hasn’t tried it, except for very limited experiments.

The good news for Twitter, and its investors, is that the microblogging service’s user base is pretty receptive to advertising, in general terms, because it’s pretty receptive to just about everything on the Web.

So says research group Interpret LLC, which has a new study out today, conveniently enough. From the release:

Twitter users are twice as likely to review or rate products online (24% vs. 12%), visit company profiles (20% vs. 11%) and click on advertisements or sponsors (20% vs.9%) as those who only belong to traditional social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace. The data suggests that Twitter users uniquely demonstrate higher engagement with brands, not just with “tweets” they post.

These statistics are self-reported, and Interpret doesn’t say how big a sample its survey used, so take them with as much salt as you like. But they seem intuitively and directionally correct: Anyone willing to plug into the waves of information that Twitter pumps out is likely engaged all over the Web.

Note what the Interpret report doesn’t say: That Twitter users are eager to have ads inserted into the service itself.

Doesn’t matter. At some point, they’re unlikely to have a choice about that because it seems hard to imagine that Twitter can ever deliver on its investors’ sky-high expectations without generating some kind of money, somehow from Madison avenue.

Which is exactly why Biz Stone and crew, who once made a point of expressing their derision for ads, now make a point of saying that ads may not be such a terrible thing, after all.

Gawker’s Nick Denton: I Paid Big Money for “McSteamy” Sex Tape

Earlier this year, Gawker Media’s Nick Denton announced that he was going to start paying for salacious clips, tips and other submissions, but that he hadn’t worked out the details. Looks like he figured it out: Denton says he paid the source who provided his blog network with the so-called “McSteamy” sex tapes that have earned him both a lot of traffic and  a lawsuit.

The not-so sexy video clips, which Gawker published last month, involve Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane, his wife Rebecca Gayheart, and former beauty queen  Kari Ann Peniche. How did Gawker get their hands on them?

“Well, obviously we paid our contributor (and from the traffic, you can suppose quite handsomely!)”, Denton told the the New York Times’s David Carr, this morning.

I followed up with Denton, via IM, and he wasn’t much more forthcoming than that. But he did confirm that his blog network gave the money to Mark Ebner, who describes himself as an “award winning investigative journalist” who “has repeatedly positioned himself in harm’s way”. Ebner also runs the gossip site Hollywood Interrupted.

Denton wouldn’t say how much he paid Ebner for the video, and I haven’t been able to reach Ebner himself. But I have a hunch that Ebner hasn’t received as much as, say, a Conde Nast freelancer can get for a feature piece.

The math: In the old days (last year) Denton was paying $7.50 for every 1,000 views, but he has likely reduced that rate as Gawker’s traffic has grown. Even if he kept that rate the same, Ebner would be getting $22,500 for the 3 million views the clip has generated too date. That’s nice money, but not life-changing.

But Denton is paying above and beyond that for the clip: Rather than posting it on the likes of Google’s YouTube (GOOG), which likely would have taken down the video by now, he’s serving up the clip himself. Which means he’s paying every time someone views it. And now, he has legal bills, too.

What’s Denton in for, so far? He won’t say. But here’s the half-serious quip he used to conclude our IM chat: “Hey, this news business is expensive!”

Newspapers to Congress: Please Don’t Give Us a Bailout

newspaperlessThe newspaper bailout proposal you may have heard about over the last few months? The newspapers want no part of it, says an industry spokesman.

That said, the industry wouldn’t turn down some help from Congress, says John Sturm, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

Testifying at a House hearing this morning, Sturm says his group does like proposals that would let newspapers–and other businesses–change some of their accounting practices related to tax refunds (via net operating-loss provisions) and pension plans. Oh, and he’s in favor of a proposed law that would let papers operate as nonprofits while still generating advertising revenue.

The complete text of Sturm’s opening statement is embedded at the bottom of this post, and if you want to watch the hearing, organized by Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, it’s being streamed live (albeit choppily) here.

My political handicapping skills are nonexistent, but that said, I think there’s no chance of Congress passing a bill that singles out newspapers for aid. Local papers are still vitally important to local lawmakers, but many of those lawmakers’ constituents hate their papers, for all manner of offenses, real and imagined. I just can’t imagine what they’d do if they were told their tax dollars were going to support their local rag.

Still, I wouldn’t rule out some politically motivated pressure being applied to bogeymen like Craigslist and Google (GOOG), in the form of antitrust scrutiny or other arm-twisting.


JFS-Statement-Joint-Economic-Committee-092409-Hearing

Nondeal of the Day: Microsoft Says It’s Not Buying Electronic Arts

madden_101There’s going to be a lot of buying and selling in the coming months, but here’s one deal that’s not happening: Contrary to market-moving rumors, Microsoft (MSFT) isn’t buying  videogame giant Electronic Arts (ERTS). Reuters:

“We have no plans to acquire EA,” Phil Spencer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. “They remain a very important partner to us. No acquisitions.”

Spencer declined to comment on whether it had held talks with Electronics Arts on such a move.

Anybody else want to take a run at the company? After a 7% jump yesterday, the company behind the “Madden” franchise, among others (it also has a piece of the “Rock Band” business), sports a $6.4 billion market cap.

Meanwhile, both Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) have announced that they’re in the market for relatively bit-sized deals.

Google, Yahoo Going Shopping Again

big_spender_singleRemember the good old days of the last Web boom, when startups sold to Google and Yahoo instead of going public? They’re back!

Yesterday, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said she had she was in the market for acquisitions — specifically “small and medium-sized opportunities.” Today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he’d use his $11 billion cash hoard to do the same thing. At the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, Schmidt told reporters that now that “it’s clear that the worst is behind us,” his checkbook is open again. Reuters:

“Acquisitions are turned on again at Google and we are doing our normal maneuvers, which is small companies. My estimate would be one-a-month acquisitions and these are largely in lieu of hiring,” Schmidt said.

“There may be larger acquisitions, but they really are unpredictable,” Schmidt said.

And sure enough, Google has been on a mini-buying binge as of late. Last month, it was video compression company On2 for $106 million (though angry owners of the penny stock insist it should be for much more). Earlier this month, it was reCaptcha, the um Captcha company, for an undisclosed sum. One decent bet for the future: Ad technology companies like Teracent.

Pretty sure I haven’t embedded any Bob Fosse clips before. Time to change that.