CBS TV Gets Local in Long Tail

Blog networks are nothing new and long-tail vertical content networks are quickly becoming commonplace, but CBS Television Stations has put a local spin on the off-site online ad network concept.

New England Jeep Dealers, North Texas Honda Dealers, AT&T, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and auto insurance comparison service INSWeb are among initial advertisers running display ads through the new CBS Local Ad Network, which essentially operates as a network of smaller local networks.

Over the past two weeks, sites aimed at local markets including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Denver have joined city-centric mini networks. Sites targeting Baltimore, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Sacramento are expected to roll out through next month.

Thus far, Boston has 25 site partners, while Chicago, Dallas, and the Mile High City each have 15 partners, according to Jonathan Leess, president and GM of CBS Television Stations Digital Media Group. “We hope to get anywhere between 50 and 200 sites [in each local network] depending on the size of the market,” he said. CBS will share a cut of ad revenue with publisher partners.

According to Aaron Radin, the Digital Media Group’s SVP of ad sales and business development, the company aims to build an average of around 20 million incremental ad impressions per market each month.

The firm is combining the popular widget approach with standard display ad units sold on a CPM-basis. For example, on Red Sox fan blog RedSoxNation.net, a WBZ-TV Boston-branded unit presents images and links to CBS sports-related videos, including a link to a clip featuring Red Sox Manager Terry Francona discussing the 2007 World Series champion team’s lineup. Below the content area sits a skyscraper ad for New England Jeep Dealers.

Images and links to content are dynamically updated through the system, which targets ads according to content category and/or geography. Depending on the site’s subject, partners display video images, and links associated with a particular content vertical, such as sports, politics, news, or business news. For instance, local restaurant review site network Urbanspoon features “Odd News” in the CBS ad units running on its San Francisco site. Content links, however, aren’t necessarily targeted locally. A link to an article about an “Illinois-Shaped Corn Flake For Sale On eBay” appeared on the Bay Area site yesterday.

CBS chose Seevast Corp’s SyndiGO to enable the new network. As publishers explore ways to add reach to their current Web inventory, more and more are relying on platforms from firms like Seevast, Adify and Collective Media to power off-site vertical networks.

Ads in the network for AT&T were sold by the national sales team of CBS Television Stations, while others are sold by local salespeople, like those seen in the Dallas network promoting North Texas Honda. Advertisers can also run ads nationally throughout the network.

The new offering “leverages the sales force we have,” said Leess. “This empowers them with more inventory in the digital space,” he continued. “The goal is to help advertisers expand their spend with us.”

Indeed, after clicking from local network sites to view videos on WBZTV.com, users are shown pre-roll video spots for advertisers including New England retailer Bob’s Discount Furniture and Jeep. “Our Boston station now can represent twice the amount of inventory targeted locally in their marketplace,” said Leess.

Stations can package Local Ad Network inventory with television inventory. Rather than potentially cannibalizing their current ad products, the new offering is viewed by CBS sales forces as “complementary” to other ad offerings, stressed Radin.

Added Leess, “This is a convergent sales effort…as marketers begin to expand RFPs [requests for proposals] that integrate both mediums.”

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