U-T San Diego, the digital media publisher formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, has found revenue growth in a shrinking market, thanks to a monetization strategy with analytics at its center.
Financier Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune in November 2011 and renamed the company U-T San Diego as a first step in turning it into a digitally oriented media conglomerate. In June, it instituted a paywall, limiting non-subscribers to reading 15 articles per month for free.
Earlier this week, it broadcast its first original TV content, produced in-house. The hour-long "Overdrive San Diego" streams live on UTTV.com and also appears on Cox cable and AT&T U-verse channels.
Despite the paywall, and the dire state of the news industry in general, U-T San Diego has seen revenues climb, thanks to relentless monetization. In July, revenue from news content was up 9 percent, and up again the month after that, according to Joseph Gordon, director of research.
"We log everything you do when you hit the site - where you came from, your landing page, what links you click, how long you engage with a piece of content," Gordon said. Gordon is responsible for supporting news, advertising, marketing, circulation, digital media and business development.
U-T San Diego uses Anametrix, a meta-analytics platform, to track the response and monetization rate of every aspect of each digital channel, including content, photography, video and ads.
Each property has a different monetization strategy, according to Gordon, with website advertising the top revenue source. There are more than 1,000 online-only subscribers at a minimum of $3.50 a week. "It definitely pays our editorial budget," he said.
For web content, U-T San Diego uses Anametrix to compare all stories to see how many page views they farner, and then layers on ad units to monetize every story and author. In a practice that's common in digitally native publications but still controversial in the traditional news room, each reporter is accountable for his or her traffic and is expected to use the analytics platform to increase traffic with social media, as well as to judge which stories should get the most production time. (Journalists are referred to as "authors," in line with content management system vernacular.)
Staff writers have been charged with increasing their traffic 15 percent, year over year, every year. Editors, meanwhile, constantly tweak the U-T San Diego home page, promoting stories whose traffic is trending upward and swapping out stories where interest has dropped.
"As things get tighter over time, we want to make sure we make right decisions," Gordon said. "We want to make sure people write stories that need to be written. If you spend five hours writing a story that only five people read, maybe you need to write that story at one page instead of five."
Anametrix merges data from a variety of sources, including other analytics platforms such as Overture and third-party data sources such as the U.S. Census, to provide real-time analysis of "They can be far more agile in their marketing efforts in a strategic way - which campaign, which channel, which product group, which region," said Pelin Thorogood, Anametrix CMO.
U-T San Diego categorizes the content, so it also tracks whether the interest of a particular site visitor tends toward business or sports. Anametrix also flags paid subscribers and lets the publisher break out those people's actions. "That's important to know, because they are the most regular readers. So we want to make sure the home page and navigation gives them the pages they want first," Gordon said.
Advertising for video content will fairly traditional, with standard 15- and 30-second spots. For video accessed via cable, U-T San Diego uses Nielsen overnight ratings. Anametrix is used to track video content streamed from the web, so that U-T San Diego can analyze not only how many views a piece got, but also whether it was finished or at what point viewers dropped off.
"We want to make sure we make videos that keep your attention and are the right length," Gordon said. "We're trying to grow what we're doing and making money off what we do."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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