@ Ad:Tech: Traditional Media Gets Social With Branding, Content Strategy; Widgets-R-Us

Traditional media properties like the NYT, MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA) and Time Inc.’s People find themselves continually redefining their digital strategies; yesterday it was an emphasis on RSS feeds, now it’s time for widgets. Some highlights from the discussion about social media and branding on the final day of <a href="Ad:Tech” title=”Ad:Tech”>Ad:Tech; Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, moderated:

Vivian Schiller, SVP and General Manager, NYTimes.com began by discussing the demise of online subscription product TimesSelect. Insisting it was the right thing two years ago, with more readers coming to the website via search – roughly half, at this point, she said – it was clear that things had changed and the Times felt it could sell more ads by opening up most of its archives back to 1851.

Nada Stirratt, EVP, Digital Advertising, MTV Networks: The company’s decision to create more opportunities for user-generated content – mainly at Comedy Central – and more standalone channels reflects the evolving ways its audience is consuming media. “We want to make sure consumers can share our content and theirs. It’s no longer about passive engagement.”

Fran Hauser, president, People Digital: The online version of the magazine is almost viewed in various dayparts, compared to the print version, which tends to remain pretty much a “Friday night/weekend” read for its audience: “The website is opposite; during the week, our female readers look it for a quick break – two, three minutes versus a half-hour, an hour for the magazine. The other thing we think about is that in the morning, readers want some general content, say, related to a section like style, while later in the day, when they come back looking to check the latest headlines.”

Syndication strategy: Podcasts are still hard to monetize, because the measurement isn’t there, the panelists agreed. And you’d be hard pressed to find any web publisher who doesn’t have a media player strategy, Stirratt said. Schiller said RSS feels old-fashioned right now, but it’s still vital. Hauser, nodded, adding that she is surprised that RSS feeds are a strong draw to consumers.

Role of brands: Hauser: Advertisers want to be aligned with brands, because they signify trust, despite, and in part, because of, the unpredictability associated with the advent of user-gen. Echoing that point, Stirratt pointed to the case of ManiaTV, an online video network which recently stopped running user-gen after it found that 80 percent of its users gravitated towards branded content. Additionally, she said, the definition of what constitutes a brand is changing; “Lazy Sunday,” the nearly two-year-old Saturday Night Live digital video became a brand, she said. Schiller: “We’re beginning to create brands out of our columnists and blogs. That’s new for the Times. We’re not in the star system, but (with) Andrew Ross Sorkin in business, Saul Hansell in tech and Brian Stelter for media coverage, we’re creating brand loyalty around individuals, as we seem to have a new blog a day. And that creates great exposure for us and creates additional incentives for advertisers.”

Reach for advertisers: With so much talk about creating reach to attract consumers, what about the advertisers, one audience member asked, especially when the portal model is being called into question. Stirratt: With MTVN’s group of 270 sites, the company has made improvements to reach advertisers in a horizontal way and it’s now easier for advertisers to buy across the range of channels and networks under MTVN. “Behavioral targeting has arrived, it was a harder sell a few years ago… We’re in a platform agnostic approach and started a new division called Digital Fusion to help move that along.”

Widget strategy: Schiller: We’re still in infancy in terms of developing a widget strategy. The current experiment is centering around NYT News Quiz Widget. “Right now, it’s just for Facebook, but we’ll be modifying that for other sites, including our own. There’s a competition aspect, I always get the sports ones wrong, you can measure your knowledge against others and it sends you to the stories on our site.” Hauser: People is preparing a spate of celebrity-specific widgets. “We’re not seeing a ton of traffic for desktop apps and gadgets.” Stirratt: “There has to be a measurement, we’re used to making decisions on data that comes back to us.”

Video strategy: Does a 30-sec pre-roll work on a two-minute video? Probably not, Stirratt said. “The best positive experience was a 3- to-5 second billboard, then, after viewing an episode, a 15-second mid-roll. At that point, you are so involved with the content, you don’t feel that you’re being interrupted.” Not the final answer to the problem of monetizing online video, but a good step forward, she added.

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