Rival Publishers Look to Aggregate Audiences

Five well-known online publishers are banding together to pitch their combined audiences to advertisers seeking to reach consumers at work.

Through the effort, CBS MarketWatch.com , NYTimes.com, USAToday.com, CNET Networks, and weather.com will continue selling inventory on their own sites, in addition to participating in a daypart-based ad sales consortium that the publishers call “the At-Work Brand Network.”

The network is designed to better market the publishers’ combined audiences to advertisers. According to Media Metrix data, the five publishers’ sites reach an at-work audience of more than 17 million users, who together represent more than 43 percent of the total at-work online audience.

In addition, network members agree to honor each other’s creative submission, orders and reporting policies, so that advertisers will need to work with only one network member to place an ad across all five publishers’ sites.

“Not only are we breaking new ground here in terms of being able to reach each the at-work audience in terms of reach and frequency across all of these sits, but to have these five publisher working in a consortium is unlike anything we’ve seen in traditional media,” said Scot McLernon, executive vice president of sales and marketing at MarketWatch.

AT&T Wireless is the first advertiser to make a purchase through the network. As a result, the mobile carrier’s ads will run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in every time zone. Interactive agencies Avenue A and White Horse orchestrated the buy.

The network also is close to appointing a third-party rep to handle the final stages of booking cross-network sales — a maneuver designed to protect the sites from antitrust issues, since they wouldn’t be doing the actual selling themselves.

“We’re very diligently going about having a third party, who … as soon as we get close to actual pricing, would step in and finish what would be termed the negotiations on pricing to run across the network,” McLernon said. The rep also is likely to consolidate reporting from the sites, he added.

The creation of the At-Work Brand Network essentially came about in response to wanting to grab a share of the big spending associated with the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq proxy battle, McLernon said.

“It was a little bit frustrating to see the HP-Compaq merger taking place, with all of the full-page print ads … and, at the moment, none of the papers had the campaigns running on their Web sites. Although we were slated to have some later, initially, we were just left watching.”

Although the publishers attempted, and failed, to sell a morning-time, network-wide news “roadblock” to the players in the HP merger, “the consortium remained,” McLernon said.

“What evolved was the one-order, one-place of billing, one place to send creative,” he added. “It will be one spot for all of these services and … a branded network with an affluent demographic that’s unprecedented anywhere else on the Web.”

The formation of the group builds on efforts by industry groups to find and promote a unique selling point for online media. Earlier this year, research sponsored by the Online Publishers Association (to which the network members belong) found that the Internet is the leading form of media consumption for business professionals while at work. The study also determined that for consumers who use the Web at both home and work, Internet media consumption exceeds even that of television during the workweek.

The new At-Work Brand Network also furthers the cause of online dayparting. The New York Times’ site recently began experimenting with the format earlier this month, in conjunction with American Airlines . Yahoo! has been testing the ads for months, while MarketWatch also experimented with time-of-day units in the past.

Publishers including InterZine Productions — now dissolved into AOL Time Warner — and AOL Digital Cities also attempted to make a go of the format. But in spite of the high-profile tests, dayparting remains largely unused by the majority of Internet media sellers — so the chagrin of some.

“Everyone’s on the train in the morning, reading the newspaper, but where everyone really gets the news is through the Web,” McLernon said. “People open their browsers first thing in the morning and get the news on at least one, or three, or all five of those sites … so we should be taking advantage of that.”

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