NPR leads web collaboration

National Public Media to sell bulk remnant space on station sites

Originally published in Current, Aug. 11, 2008
By Jeremy Egner

National Public Media LLC, the underwriting sales company formed last fall when NPR and WGBH bought National Public Broadcasting LLC, will offer to package stations’ unsold online inventory and sell it to national sponsors as a single traffic-rich network.

NPM will sell the package as an add-on to sponsors that underwrite NPR.org and PBS.org, which the company already represents. NPM also reps many pubTV and public radio stations’ on-air underwriting to national companies.

“We think it will prove to be a magnet and generate a lot more interested underwriters,” Bob Williams, NPM president says. “We think it can raise all boats.”
    NPM is calling the project the Public Media Interactive network—someone else was already using the name it originally chose, Public Media Network. The company first outlined the plan for the aggregated ad network at last month’s Public Radio Development & Marketing Conference in Orlando.

Last fall NPR and WGBH bought out the original owners of NPM predecessor National Public Broadcasting—Williams and a group of major stations. NPR owns 80 percent of the company, and WGBH owns the rest. NPR’s underwriting sales staff is now a division of NPM called NPR Sponsorship.

Stations can opt in for free if they sign an agreement that NPM will send them this month. Participating stations’ sites must accommodate credits in the standard banner ad sizes endorsed by the Internet Advertising Bureau.

NPM’s hope is that if enough stations sign on, their combined web traffic will be significant enough to draw interest from the major sponsors that underwrite NPR.org and PBS.org, which each receive more than 3 million unique visitors a month, Williams says. On their own, stations have little chance of attracting national ad dollars.

“With everybody going it alone, it really takes away the volume that makes public broadcasters a serious option for sponsors,” says Mark Fuerst, president of the Integrated Media Association.

The aggregated network will be used exclusively to serve remnant ads — space on pages that stations haven’t already sold. Local sponsorships secured by stations’ own salespeople will always get priority, says Bryan Moffett [correction], NPM’s director of digital sponsorship operations.

The process works like this: If a page called up on a station site already has a local sponsorship assigned to it, then the station’s ad server delivers the local banner. But if it doesn’t, the station’s ad server calls out to the NPM network to check for available national network sponsorships. If none are available, the NPM network will roll back to the station’s ad server, allowing the station to serve a house ad, such as a general membership message.

Stations won’t see the copy or art of ads before they run on their sites, but NPM will review creative materials in light of NPR’s standards, which prohibit calls to action, qualitative language and the like and otherwise mirror broadcast underwriting guidelines. (NPM will send out the standards with the station agreements.) Stations will be notified in advance before specific sponsors go live on the network and can opt out, if desired.

Because placement of ads or underwriting on remnant networks can’t be guaranteed, placements are sold at lower rates—NPM wouldn’t divulge specific prices.

Locally, station sites are selling ads at rates around $15 to $20 per thousand impressions, Williams says. The national remnant network average cost per thousand is around $3, he says.

“The network sales will always be lower in value than the stations’ local sales—they’ll enjoy the highest rates locally,” Moffat says. “The network is designed to return at least some revenue on that unsold inventory.”

According to NPR research presented at the PRDMC, more than 60 percent of pubradio stations have sold half or less of their available online ad space. Many of those stations are probably mid-sized or smaller, Moffat says. “But, still, I think it demonstrates there’s lots of opportunity for stations to recoup some revenue on that unsold inventory.”

Stations will receive 65 percent of the revenue from impressions on their sites. NPM will send quarterly impression reports and checks, Williams says.

The network will work with almost any ad server—NPM hasn’t tested them all, Moffat says. But NPM recommends that stations consider Google’s new Ad Manager, a free service still in beta, that is designed to be a user-friendly way to handle online ad inventory. (It’s available at google.com/admanager.)

NPM has no stake in the product—the “alternatives are either pricey and complex, or limited and free,” Moffat says.

“It’s just a better mousetrap,” Williams says.

That said, Google’s system is not a snap to pick up, says IMA’s Fuerst, who’s been experimenting with it. “You can’t just go to Google Ad Manager one afternoon and expect the site to be up and running next day.”

His group, which used Google Analytics as the basis of its Public Media Metrics project, will help train stations on the system and is currently putting together a pilot project to examine the service and test the Public Media Interactive network.

Though getting the software and participating in the network is free, stations ultimately may have to pay a web techie to help them set up and maximize their integrated online sponsorship efforts, Fuerst says. But even if stations get as little as 5 percent of their sponsorship revenue from national remnant ads, “that would be more than enough to make it worth the effort.”

“You don’t have to sell anything, but the money trickles in,” he says.

The spelling of Bryan Moffett's name is corrected here. Apologies for the error in the print edition.

Web page posted Aug. 11, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC

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