New York Media's new Vulture Network is another sign of how publishers are finding ways to extend and profit from content. The media company is the latest publisher to launch a vertical content network (a.k.a. vertical ad network). The network expands advertising campaigns to other “quality, like-minded entertainment sites,” the company says.
The mothership is the popular Vulture
entertainment news site, which originally launched as the culture blog for New York magazine and has since become a successful stand-alone entertainment site
with a national reach. The company says page views and uniques visitors have doubled since January 2010. This past January, uniques hit almost 3 million and page views reached 18 million.
The network's goal is to double that reach for advertising campaigns. For example, on a good month when Vulture hits 3 million uniques, the partners might add 3 million more, said Ron Stokes, executive director of digital ad sales at New York Media.
In a phone interview, Stokes said content partners are vetted by the editorial team as impactful in the culture space. Some sites might be smaller with low unique visitors but have a major focus on a cultural topic like television.
Content partners so far include Seat 42F
, Art Critical
and The Futon Critic
. Selected partners receive advertising from Vulture's advertisers, based on a revenue share. Advertisers who've signed on include Target, AMC and HBO.
As the blog expands its own reach, Stokes said they will consider bringing on more sites. "We'll continue to grow Vulture itself and will continue to evaluate partners — we've got a waiting list of partners that want in."
Why launch a vertical network?
Vertical content networks and vertical ad networks (whatever you want to call them) have been popping up in the last few years as the publisher response to extending audience in a more targeted area for advertisers ― without turning over inventory to horizontal ad networks, which have earned somewhat of a bad name
for commoditizing ad inventory.
Stokes said New York Media decided to roll out the Vulture Network after debating whether it should be part of their business strategy. “But I had some hesitation: Just the word 'network' resonates a certain way in the business,” he said.
But "network" is also becoming a positive term. As consultant Scott Swanson pointed out last year, smaller publishers are “perfectly poised to nab a larger piece of the revenue generated from digital advertising” by launching their own vertical ad networks
. And eMedia Vitals CEO Prescott Shibles outlined how publishers can launch their own ad network
There's more than one way to go about it. Unlike some other ad networks, New York Media's strategy focuses more on contextual rather than behavioral targeting. Advertisers already know the type of reader going to sites in the network to seek out certain content. Behavioral targeting comes in to see how many entertainment pages someone is visiting (e.g. someone visiting a certain number of film pages), Stokes explained.
Inspiration for the Vulture Network's strategy came from networks like Martha Stewart's Martha's Circle
, which also editorially handpicks lifestyle sites and blogs where advertisers can extend campaigns.
Other vertical networks could be less hands-on, in which other content sites can sign on to a network in order to reach a certain demographic, without too much interaction with the publisher owning the network. The tactic New York Media uses requires more manual work and hand-holding directly with partners, Stokes noted. One person on Vulture's advertising side serves as the point person to manage relationships and advertising tags with the partners.
Developing an automated white-label solution rather than a more manual system might work better for some publishers. Stokes advice is: “Pick a vertical that you are really strong in and you're really proud of the product, and you can go either way with it.”
New York Media decided entertainment would be the strongest vertical to launch a network, as Vulture was capturing a lot of attention in buying circles — but media buyers also wanted more reach. A movie coming out on Friday needs to deliver ads quickly in the most likely places where users will respond, Stokes said.
At launch, the network features traditional display advertising, but New York Media plans to ad more high-impact ad units and integrated content deals in the future. The company would also consider launching future vertical networks in other areas, Stoke said.
"We are just at the beginning of this so there will be things that we're learning as we move forward,” Stokes said.