Gannett (NYSE: GCI) has hired ShortTail Media co-cofounder and ex-CNN.com exec David Payne as its new chief digital officer, succeeding the first person to hold that title, Chris Saridakis, who departed last year. The hiring comes as Gannett’s digital revenues have continued to surge — its digital business has grown 44 percent in the last two years, with revenue of almost $1 billion, makes up 18 percent of Gannett’s total revenue — and thus, become much more central part of its company-wide focus.
Gannett has been in the process of rebranding itself as a more digital-centric company and not just a traditional newspaper publisher and broadcaster. The announcement also comes two days after Gannett tapped former NBC Universal (NSDQ: CMCSA) executive Maryam Banikarim as its first CMO.
Given the rise of online video advertising, Payne appears to be a very sensible hire. He helped start video ad tech firm ShortTail Media in 2008 and has served as the company’s president and CEO. Before that, he was SVP/GM of CNN.com, which produced and distributed all of CNN’s digital services, including CNN.com, CNN Mobile, CNN.com Live, and CNN Video on Demand.
At the same time Payne moves over to Gannett, he has also sold Shorttail to AdGent. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Apart from the two new hires this week, Pointroll CEO Jason Tafler also just finished his last day at the Gannett rich media subsidiary before taking on the chief digital officer role at Canada’s Rogers Media. Tafler, who succeeded Saridakis as the head of Pointroll three years ago, was replaced by SVP of sales Robert Gatto.
The recent additions — from the new logo on to the new hires — reflects both the improvement in Gannett’s financial situation and the aggressive approach CEO Craig Dubow has taken toward shifting the company’s focus to digital, especially in the mobile and local areas. Like most major media companies, the print side of the business continues to struggle against industrywide declines, while digital has been a particular growth driver, even during the downturn.
Over the past year, Gannett has pursued a number of digital efforts, including experimenting of paywalls at three of its community newspapers, debated whether to charge for its popular USA Today iPad app (early plans were put on indefinite hold as ad inventory on the device continued to sell out, surpassing initial expectations), and it has worked on setting up local integrated marketing units across the country that leverage its expansive footprint, while carving out a separate business from the traditional newspaper/broadcast ad sales.
Sources had previously told paidContent that Gannett had been looking both internally and externally to find a successor for Saridakis, who left the company to become GSI Commerce’s (Nasdaq: GSIC) Marketing Services unit last April.