“This not a panel about the iPad saving the publishing world, nor is it a panel about paywalls saving the world; it’s about how advertising is can save the world if publishers can change,” Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis said, opening a session at PubMatic’s AdRevenue 2010 conference at The Times Center. Kyoo Kim, MSNBC.com’s VP of ad sales, offered some possible lessons about how the site’s plan to “kill the pageview” can help save premium publishers, if they’re patient enough to wait for ad prices to rise on the promise of greater accountability.
During the panel discussion, Kim talked about how MSNBC.com’s major redesign last June was affecting its ad sales. The most basic premise of the general news site’s redesign was that “pageviews were dead” as an important audience metric for advertisers. As Kim noted, pageview don’t take into account all the various “content assets” the users experience when visiting a web page, such as story abstracts, photos, videos, and sharing tools. Plus, pageviews never really helped to determine whether an ad was actually seen by the person who counted as a “view.”
So instead of following the typical strategy of placing ads all over the site and counting ads as served, MSNBC.com focused on a single-page-only format, and shifted ad sales to large, customizable placements. The company also promised more accountability as to whether an ad was actually seen as opposed to just citing pageviews of proof — something advertisers generally regarded as a big maybe.
“The idea we had was, ‘What if we only serve an ad if it appears in the users’ browser window?'” Kim said. “But when I thought about that, my initial worry was, ‘Crap, what’s that going to do to our inventory?'” In essence, by focusing its ads in a way that only counted if they were engaged, MSNBC.com was taking a chance in losing millions of dollars by lowering its ad inventory. No one new how much inventory would drop, but initially, Kim factored in a 25 percent drop in inventory. A few months after the redesign, he said the amount of inventory fell only five percent on average.
While the focus has largely been on selling premium brand inventory, Kim said that remnant ads sold through real-time bidding has actually shown that CPMs have increased. “We saw a real jump in its unsold inventory submitted via RTB platforms,” he said. “On individual ads, we’ve seen CPMs jump anywhere from a 30- percent to 300 percent.”
Still, holding back inventory does mean less money in the short-term, but Kim expects other major publishers to follow suit as the promise of greater accountability to marketers and agencies will mean higher prices.
“One of the things that online ad salespeople used to say was that we could tell you something that TV and print couldn’t — whether a consumer has seen your ad,” Kim said. “It’s time we lived up to that promise.”