New York Times to Launch “Surround Sessions”

The online division of The New York Times is planning to launch a new advertising type that it’s hoping will inject a shot of life into the ailing online ad sector.

The process, known as “surround sessions,” involve a user receiving ads from a single advertiser, for the entire duration of their visit to the site. That includes banners, Interactive Advertising Bureau “large rectangle” sizes, skyscrapers and buttons.

The concept is likely to gain fans among both media owners and buyers, since it can be sold on the basis of reach — that is, the number of users that receive the sessions. Because the metric of reach plays such a large part in television and radio media buying — which are sold using Gross Ratings Points that take into account reach and frequency — surround sessions may encourage offline buyers to spend more of their budgets online, and that’s naturally good news for Web publishers.

Indeed, finding middle ground between online and offline media has long been the promise of the industry’s leadership, with the thinking being that once traditional media buyers understand online media metrics, they’ll be more likely to make buys.

There are other benefits for media owners as well. Because ads essentially follow a user around throughout their browsing session on — even as they visit, say, the World News section — surround sessions would have a secondary benefit of causing targeted ads to appear in some of the site’s more undersold inventory.

“Based on the demand of the advertising community, we had been selling targeting by content,” said New York Times Digital vice president of marketing Craig Calder. “Travel [advertisers] only wanted to be in the travel section, while business [advertisers] only wanted to be in business section. So our most popular section areas were sold out, but other areas … were really undersold. Now, we’re able to identify a person by initial content interest and monetize their entire session.”

Surround sessions also could prove advantageous to advertisers — not just because they receive exclusive sponsorship in major ad positions during a user’s visit. Agencies can create sequential advertisements that essentially tell a story or make the sale over the course of several pages — circumventing the cramped creative confines of a single banner or skyscraper. Ideally, this could produce to better online ads.

Although a surround session actually continues until the user leaves the site, said it plans to package and sell sessions using a minimum of five pages’ worth of ads. That means that if a user abandons the site after viewing only three pages, the advertiser pays nothing for that session. Likewise, should a user view ten pages on the site, the session’s five additional pages of ads are delivered at no cost.

Targeting is also possible, and it will be determined on how a user enters the site. Users that start with the’s Business section, for instance, are categorized as business users, and would receive ads from an appropriate advertiser. Spokespeople also said the site will offer demographic targeting as well.

Clearly, while the idea seems intuitive — a “no-brainer,” Calder said — it’s quite new to the online media world, which is struggling to promote Web ads as a branding vehicle, but sells them in non-contiguous impressions.

Calder said he hatched on the idea after he said he became “frustrated” by both the effort of buying online media, and by seeing the ways its performance is judged.

“The truth is, it’s all about clicks,” he said. “We put together focus groups to figure out what triggered media buyers’ decisions, and we were encouraged when we heard media buyers say, ‘Yes, we know you have a quality audience, a quality brand, quality content, and loyal, engaged audiences.’ But when we run a plan, and a low-level media buyer runs an Excel spreadsheet and figures out that he can get more clicks at less cost at [a general interest portal], the New York Times gets bumped.”

“I looked at it at a different perspective. There’s a fundamental problem with the way that we are offering advertising options to our advertisers — meaning that it was up to us to fix it, and up to us to offer advertisers an opportunity to leverage our quality audience, content and deeply engaged, loyal audience.”

Admittedly, the site has yet to finalize any surround session deals with advertisers, though it expects to do so within a month.

And it’s not clear how the pricing will sit with clients — the site said it would begin selling the packages at about $25,000 for 75,000 sessions, which works out to a CPM of about $67. (That doesn’t count bonus impressions from sessions under or over five pages, nor does it put a figure on perks like exclusivity of a user’s session.)

“We haven’t actually run a program with a real advertiser, so we don’t know what exactly the bonus will be, but we anticipate … that sessions will be more valuable to advertisers than just impressions,” Calder said.

To sweeten the deal — and to prove a return on investment — also said it would offer brand impact surveys from Dynamic Logic at cost.

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