From Martha Stewart Living to MSNBC, respected media brands are carving out their own portions of the Web’s long tail. Though many offshoot networks have been aimed at women, the vertical and demographic audience segments aggregated through branded ad network initiatives has lately broadened. For instance, Forbes unveiled its Business and Finance Blog Network yesterday.
The networks, some encompassing far fewer than the 400 blogs Forbes has signed, provide additional reach to publishers. They also give them the cachet of being able to offer media associated with influential bloggers and their readers.
The new Forbes network is powered by Adify and includes sites like Sramana Mitra on Strategy and Calculated Risk, both of which currently run ads through other networks. Talking Biz News is another of the network’s blogs; that site is running ads promoting the new network that link to an Adify page where interested bloggers can signup to be considered as Forbes partners.
Available soon to advertisers, the network will offer CPM-based ads and share an undisclosed portion of ad revenue with bloggers. Forbes is promoting the network as one reaching senior business decision makers and wealthy investors. The company plans to sell it to the same types of advertisers that buy on its branded sites. Forbes launched a separate Audience Network in November, which includes Forbes sites such as ForbesTraveler.com and non-Forbes sites Investopedia.com, RealClearPolitics.com and Clipmarks.com.
Several well-known media brands have launched similar networks, many of which are geared towards women. Network operators BabyCenter, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Warner Bros. Television Group. MSNBC.com also recently started niche networks focused on politics and subjects appealing to its “Today Show” audience.
“I’m absolutely interested if a brand like Forbes is [packaging media in a new way],” Andrew Wagner, CEO of media strategy, planning and buying firm Trafficbuyer Digital told ClickZ News. However, Wagner said some endemic financial advertisers like brokerage firms often steer clear of blogs, even if they’re vetted the way Forbes said it has its network blogs.
“A lot of financial advertisers who are in the brokerage space can’t operate in blogs, because if people are making stock recommendations in the blogs and ads are in the same content area, it could be considered inappropriate,” he said.
In addition to attracting advertisers, branded network extensions like the Forbes offering can also appeal to bloggers tired of running ads from Google or other networks that typically don’t generate much revenue. There’s the added benefit of leaving the ad management up to the media partner if desired. Still, some blogs command enough value that partnering with a larger media brand doesn’t necessarily bring in more money.
After being approached by a few such networks, including one run by a large news site, A. J. Schuler, principal of ad rep firm CommonSense Media, isn’t impressed. “I don’t see where they’re adding value on a revenue basis beyond what I can get from a Tribal Fusion or a ValueClick,” he explained. CommonSense Media sells display advertising on behalf of political and news sites including liberal blogs Firedoglake and MyDD.
Schuler said other deterrents to joining branded and vertical networks have been inflexibility and low CPMs. “They own that piece of ad space and I can’t sell into it,” he said, calling CPM rates promised by one news brand’s network, “frankly abysmal.”
According to Forbes.com SVP and General Manager of Operations Mike Smith, bloggers in the new network can allocate some or all of their inventory to the network, and won’t be required to dedicate particular ad placements.
Joining a network branded by a big media firm also has its drawbacks for blogs that could be perceived as sellouts if they align with the mainstream media, often perceived as the enemy by political bloggers and their loyal readers. “This whole niche grew out of the grassroots’ widespread dissatisfaction with the more established media,” said Schuler of political blogs. “It’s a tricky branding issue.”
CommonSense Media competes with the likes of Blogads, the first blog advertising network. As Forbes and others introduce their own branded blog networks, companies like Blogads could bear the brunt if advertisers find using the new networks more valuable. However, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive reportedly has shuttered the Blogroll network it introduced about a year ago, because media from portals and networks like Blogads cost less.
Blogads CEO Henry Copeland suggested his company is more dedicated to serving network advertisers than the likes of Forbes and Martha Stewart Living, which launched its home and decorating content network last year. “It’s simple capitalism that the affiliated ‘network’ will get short-shrift versus the corporate site whenever demand drops, so these folks are not the best choice as a long-term partner,” he said. “These folks are entering markets where [they’re] not focused.”
Forbes said neglect of ad partners won’t be a problem since it has hired former About.com ad exec Nick Ricci to manage its two network operations as GM sales. “Nick is building the sales team that will market and sell both networks,” said Smith, noting the sales force will be dedicated exclusively to selling the networks.