NewsGator as the Anti-AP

Considering this latest announcement is an evolution of things we have been working on all year, this is probably a lot less exciting to us than for people hearing it for the first time. But it is genuinely exciting because it delivers on a promise as old as the internet itself, the ability to integrate text on-the-fly from many sources.

NewsGator is building widgets for a consortium of 32 online papers — one for each team in the NFL. While the newspapers are not necessarily owned by the same companies, they’ve decided to share high quality content with one another in a novel way. Essentially, we’re talking about the atomization of content — where, esentially, content is broken up into many pieces and distributed (often standalone) across the web; in this case, the online newspapers we’re parterning with are atomizing their content through NewsGator widgets. (For an excellent introduction to atomization of content, check out PR Squared’s post on the subject.)

[From Introducing Reverse Syndication & Atomization of Content Our Novel, NFL Widget Campaign Breaks New Ground: NewsGator Widget Blog]

Why is this the anti-AP? Simply because the AP takes it upon themselves to create or aggregate content which is then distributed to their coop members, it defines syndication. What we are doing is enabling a peer-to-peer based model rather than the hub-and-spoke where our network participants are getting what they are sharing, in this case news content concerning football (American football, not soccer for those of you outside of the U.S.).

Our theory is that there is plenty of content, high quality content, from local sources and the limiting factor has been the ability to programmatically aggregate all this local content and then provide a distribution mechanism. Widgets and RSS solve both of those problems and point to a future where content owners and publishers can seamlessly share and consume the best content on specific or generalized subjects and do so with little cost and zero friction.

Reuters and NewsGator Partner on Election Coverage

I was remiss in not writing about another announcement we made yesterday. Reuters and NewsGator have teamed up to offer U.S. election coverage widgets for individuals and publishers.

The idea of doing widgets with specific event coverage is nothing new, but what makes this program unique is that we are offering full text Reuters coverage and video in a branded widget that can be co-branded and customized for a specific publisher.

When content in the widget is clicked on, the click brings you back not to Reuters site but to the partner site that is cobranding the widget, as is the case here with Joe the Plumber on the Denver Post site. Pretty cool, huh?

Reuters deserves a lot of credit for offering publishers the ability to take advantage of their content in a manner that benefits both the publisher and of course Reuters. With the AP struggling to maintain their customer list of newspapers, it is no surprise that other information service providers are jumping at the opportunity to disrupt the marketplace with innovative syndication offerings.

RSS technologies when combined with widget syndication offer the ideal vehicle for aggregating and distributing content in a manner that retains the integrity of the brand and ensures that monetization flows exactly where it should, to content owners and publishers.

NewsGator and AFP Olympics Widgets, Guaranteed CPM

NewsGator and AFP have teamed up to offer a collection of widgets featuring their premium content covering the upcoming Beijing Olympics. These widgets are squarely targeted at media sites and popular blogs, and as part of this program we are guaranteeing a CPM to any approved site that runs the widgets on their site. Here’s a link to the press release we put out this am.

Why is this important? For us it’s significant because it shifts our business model from being purely a hosted service provider to a syndication network. Widgets have many use cases, a vehicle for brands to reach consumers is just one while what we predominately do, enable content owners and distributors to syndicate their content is another. This Olympics feature program is a perfect adaptation of several trends in widgets, including premium content syndication, display ad monetization, and mid-tier distribution site targeting.

We are making it drop dead easy for a premium service like AFP to expand their reach beyond their current clients and top tier media sites to the long tail. Blogs and small/medium traffic websites offer a terrific syndication opportunity for AFP but the cost of reaching these sites with their traditional mechanisms is punitive. What NewsGator’s widget services offers AFP is the ability to quickly and easily reach this long tail with a self service model and a monetization scheme that correlates to the channel.

Speaking of monetization, our ad network partner is Advertising.com, a premium online ad network by any definition. This is one reason why we have a qualification program around this, because advertisers really care about where their ads are showing up so we have to have a process to ensure that these widgets are being placed on sites that are topic and audience appropriate. What this means is that we have some qualification guidelines to be met in order to participate in the guaranteed revenue part of the program, there is nothing here that restricts anyone or any site from picking up these widgets and running them.

If your site is part of the revenue side of the program we are offering a co-branding opportunity. We have designed the creative for these widgets with a replacement logo placeholder that we can use to co-brand these widgets with your branding. This is appropriate for the kind of sites we envision running them and it’s a great way for small/mid tier sites to extend their own brands.

Lastly, I want to emphasize a couple of final thoughts. First and foremost, we are not changing our business at all, we are expanding it on top of the hosted widget service we have been successfully selling to publishers. Widgets are becoming a more complex business as they grow up, we intend to lead that by innovating the service offerings we are making available and bringing traditional media companies with us as their partner. AFP is a world class news agency who deserve a lot of credit for trying something new as a means of reaching new audience and satisfying the demands of online new media.

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Intractable Business Model Conflicts

In one sense, the Web is a blessing. Daily circulation for the newsprint Post, now 673,000, may be down from 813,000 in 2000, but we are drawing an eye-opening 9.4 million unique visitors online each month, 85 percent of them from outside the D.C. circulation area. Those readers don’t bring in the cash that print subscribers do — given the gotta-be-free mentality of the Web — but they do expand our reach.

The ticking time bomb here is the wholesale abandonment of newspapers by younger people who grew up with a point-and-click mentality. When I was speaking at Harvard recently, a smug graduate student said, “I get everything I need from YouTube. What are you going to do about it?”

[From Howard Kurtz - Post Buyouts Come With an Emotional Cost - washingtonpost.com]

What an interesting juxtaposition of thoughts in this column in the Washington Post. Like many manufacturing industries have done in recent decades, the newspaper industry is in the midst of structural reorganization as a consequence of technology and consumer behavior shift.

What Kurtz is observing is an interesting conflict of business models born out of the inefficiency of one and the brutal requirement to be efficient in the other. Print subscriptions are suffering and as a consequence the ad margins that newspapers enjoy for advertising and classified advertising that eyeballs never see is going away.

Contrast this to the online side where pretty consistently it is found that online unique readership of newspaper websites is 10x greater than print subscription numbers. Yet because online is a somewhat performance based model with display advertising, newspapers can monetize only those parts of their web sites that generate impressions. More people see the website but revenue per unique visitor is lower.

Scott Karp recently observed that traditional advertising fails on the web and it is no more evident than in the newspaper business where they enjoy high, and growing as well, traffic but have a failing online business model.

Kurtz is wrong about younger generations abandoning newspapers, indeed it would be very difficult to support any statistical argument that begins with the premise that only old people are clicking on newspaper web sites. What younger generations are abandoning online, as they are in broadcast, is dumb advertising that provides little utility and in a digital world can simply be ignored or fast-forwarded through.

Kurtz also offers this observation:

The economics of the Web, for now, won’t support a staff that can hold public officials accountable across the region and still cover every Nationals game. So I cling to an old-fashioned, almost mystical belief in the power of ink on paper.

He’s right but in making his observation he is exposing his own ignorance to the broader underpinnings of “being digital”. Online web media won’t support hundreds of staffers because they simply don’t need to. We are entering an age where we rediscover the power of syndication at the hands of technology that has driven down integration to the cost of text. The Washington Post online doesn’t need to cover every Nationals game because ESPN, MLB.com, and numerous blogs are already doing it. Syndicating that content either through exclusive agreements or with public RSS provides readers with a far more compelling and comprehensive experience than any single newspaper alone can manage.

Of course, syndication is nothing new in newspaper, the AP and various other wire services have build large businesses on this idea, and most recently the Washington Post itself is syndicating TechCrunch’s stories.

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Widget Metrics

We’re starting to publish some of the stats that our clients are pointing to as a measure of success for their widget strategies. To recap, we sell primarily to media companies so impressions and interaction rates matter to them. Interaction rates include not only the clickthroughs but also the take down rates, as in the frequency that another site picks up a widget and puts it on their site or an individual takes the widget and places it on their facebook profile page or start page.

We are committed to being as transparent as possible about what benchmarks are being established for viral media syndication. Having said that, this data doesn’t necessarily belong to us, it’s our client data so only when we have their permission to highlight it will we.

The quote I highlighted below when taken in isolation doesn’t necessarily mean much however we’ll be doing more to expose client experiences and best practices, so add our widget blog feed to your reader.

“I like the way NewsGator just keeps on giving, with 66% better [engagement] metrics since our relationship began. Oh, I mean, like, 166%, since there were none when our relationship began. See?”

[From How NewsGator has Helped Discovery News]