Deja News All Over Again…Yahoo Partners Hedge Bets

Meet the new newspaper network. Same as the old newspaper network. It’s got Gannett and Tribune at the helm and it’s entirely speculative.

An online ad network is supposedly in the works featuring three Yahoo newspaper consortium partners, Hearst, Cox and Media News Group, and G and T. Sorry, no twist of “M” with this G and T: McClatchy doesn’t appear to be involved.

The Chicago Tribune had the mostly-unsourced story today (can’t imagine how they got it…).
“Sources close to the situation said Gannett Co., Tribune Co., Hearst Corp., Media News Group and Cox Newspapers may band together to form a common ad sales force that could offer national advertisers ‘one-stop shopping’ for ad space on big-market Web sites across the nation.

The consortium, which would both overlap with and compete against another network set up last year by Yahoo Inc., would capture seven of the top 10 U.S. markets, one source said. The hope is that it would grow by attracting such other companies as the Washington Post Co. and McClatchy Co.”
Somehow I’d bet they already asked McClatchy. Doesn’t anyone remember the Wall Street Journal’s big piece from January on the GMT network? It was supposed to wallop Yahoo’s growing network of paper partner sites. Or, at least, it would show Yahoo the newspapers could still consort on their own without the company that had been siphoning their ad dollars all these years.

In fact, the Journal story even employed the same ol’ tired phrase in the intro, noting, “Gannett Co., McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. are planning to offer advertisers one-stop shopping for display ads on Internet sites.”

Later, after adding several additional publisher partners, Yahoo got McClatchy to join its consortium.

So, the one glaring omission with this “new” would-be network is McClatchy. One would guess if McClatchy were involved, the Chi Trib story would have been titled something like, “GMT Network Grabs Old Partner Back from Yahoo Grip,” or “GMT Finally Signs on Partners…Sort of…We Hear.”

I called McClatchy and got nothin’. I called Tribune and got nothin’. I called Cox, Hearst and Media News Group and got nothin’. Yahoo wouldn’t talk, either, but no surprise there.

Gannett VP Corporate Communications Tara Connell talked, though: “We continue and have been for some time talking with whoever wants to talk about something like [an online newspaper ad network], but beyond that we’re not commenting.”

The looming question remains: What happened to McClatchy? Well, not that this is a reason, but let’s not forget McClatchy owns RealCities — yes, it’s a newspaper ad network. And it just added a new publisher partner.

So, why would the Yahoo partners, including a main instigator Media News Group, be involved?

Why not?

Ken Doctor, newspaper industry pundit and lead news analyst at media market research firm Outsell, said it best when I spoke with him this afternoon. “It’s interesting that some of these other companies are at least entertaining talks with Tribune and Gannett. It’s a hedge,” he said. “It behooves them at least to have an alternative. They’re concerned that they’re placing too much of a singular bet on Yahoo,” he added.

Oh, and considering a full Yahoo ad platform integration seems a long ways off, and the paper publishers could be getting restless, they might want to shake some action.

“It doesn’t hurt for Yahoo to know that other talks are going on,” said Doctor.

UPDATE: I just got an e-mail from Leon Levitt, VP of digital media at Cox, who confirmed the The Chicago Tribune story. He and Tim Landon, president of Tribune Interactive, were the only named sources in the article, actually. Levitt wrote the new talks don’t infringe at all on the Yahoo relationship, which will be more of a national advertiser play.

“Other conversations are more focused on selling the extraordinary reach of local newspaper online sites, which are almost always the number one local site in terms of audience….Any conversations outside of the Yahoo! partnership are targeted at this opportunity,” he wrote.

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