Niche audience = $10 million

Nikki Finke 10-7-09“… Media Corporation…purchased Deadline Hollywood Daily for upward of ten million dollars….It is an ambitious plan for a site that attracts a few hundred thousand unique visitors per month – but then many in that group check the site ten times a day.” “Call Me,” by Tad Friend, The New Yorker, Oct. 12, 2009

This is a telling statement, despite mixing up the use of “monthly unique visitors” with “daily unique visitors.”

It doesn’t matter how many millions of “monthly unique visitors” a news site has.  The value of a site is based on the ratio of visits per weekly or daily unique visitor.

It also matters who those unique visitors are.  Deadline Hollywood Daily is a must-read, not just for the hangers-on in the “Industry” but for studio and agency executives at the highest levels.

Nikki Finke, the diva extraordinaire without whom DHD would be worth nearly nothing, posts 24/7, multiple times a day.  So, the number of visits per daily unique visitor is the more appropriate metric.  The number of monthly unique visitors is a “so what” number – useless.

Short-form videos need short ads; video subscriptions

As you add more short-form videos to your site, watch the length of the ads in proportion to the length of the videos.

At the Online News Association conference last week, many presenters stressed the importance of posting more short videos (30-120 seconds) more often rather than waiting days or weeks to craft a traditional long-form TV story package.   Chet Rhodes, the deputy multimedia editor for breaking news at, said that the Post has problems supplying enough video inventory to its advertisers.

Many studies, including this new report from eMarketer, show that “online video viewership has never been higher.”   However, the study points out that audiences’ acceptance of video advertising is dependent on the “growth of professional content” and targeted, less intrusive ads.

Has the growth in your video traffic – as measured by multiple metrics including the number of viewers and how much of the video was viewed – kept up with your audiences’ hunger for more live and breaking news videos?

Continue reading “Short-form videos need short ads; video subscriptions”

What does “traffic” mean?

As heard from Martin Nisenholtz at the OMMA Global conference last week, Twitter drives 10 percent of the New York Times’ traffic.

What does this mean?  Is it 10 percent of page views?  Unique visitors?  Visits?  Page views per visit?  Visits per unique visitor?

Nisenholtz, the senior VP of the NYT’s digital operations, reportedly said that the NYT’s Twitter account has 1.8 million followers and growing.

OK.  That’s a nice big number.  But it doesn’t tell you anything about whether any of those followers – or anyone who got to the site through Twitter – really engaged with the site.  How many followers go to the NYT site?  How often?

I have no doubt Twitter is an important source of traffic – however it’s defined – for the NYT and other news sites.  Let’s take the time to dig deeper so we really understand Twitter’s impact.

Reminder: Use ratios

The NielsenWire headline screams, "Total Online Video Streams up 41% from Last Year."  So video viewership has gone up significantly, right?  No, not as much as 41 percent would suggest. 

Streams per viewer in August 2009 were up about 20 percent over August 2008.  Now, 20 percent is still a lot, but it's not 41, especially because the total number of unique viewers "only" went up 18 percent.

So – there are more people watching videos, and each person is watching more videos (instead of working, sleeping, etc.).   

These metrics are especially relevant if you've increased your commitment to video over the past year.  Has your investment paid off as much as it should have?  Are more people watching your videos?  Is each visitor, on average, viewing more of your videos? 

I'd also toss in metrics – like the percent of viewers who started watching videos but didn't finish them – that indicate whether your content is working.

There are technical and vendor reasons to know the total number of video streams, but this metric is not very useful for news decisions.

Adobe + Omniture = new rich media measurement standards

The news about Adobe buying Omniture mystified me until I read this speculation by Rob Rose in iMedia Connection

Adobe's the company behind Photoshop, PDFs and other software standards that have become generic trademarks like Kleenex.  Omniture's the leading web analytics vendor for news organizations.

"Imagine Adobe/Flash/Omniture becoming the default rating system for
online video.  Basically they could become the Nielsen or ComScore of
YouTube Videos.  Or, imagine the new company being able to provide
measurement on whether your PDF's are being read – and to what page
they were read.   Or imagine, them being able to tell you at what point
people fell out of your online video demonstration.    Or, finally,
imagine them being able to tell you what parts of your hybrid consumer
application are the most popular, the least frequented – or a hundred
other things that I can imagine."

In other words, new standards for measuring rich media are likely to come.

Total unique visitors and paid content

Because it’s easy to gather and it looks like circulation and readership, the number of monthly unique visitors continues to be a key indicator of online success for news orgs.  This is really dangerous, especially if used to develop news business models.

The total number of monthly UVs just doesn’t give any information about how engaged audiences are.  Let’s say you have 100 million monthly uniques, as reports the new Steve Brill Journalism Online venture is aiming for.

This number doesn’t tell you whether those 100 million of those visitors visited once or 10 times, or whether they went to one page or to 20.

You really need to know the level of engagement to sell online advertising.  And, you really need to know how engaged people are if your business model depends on paid subscribers or content.

According to, Journalism Online is counting on about 10 percent of its news affiliates’ audiences to pay for content.  Sounds like a realistic, reasonable number, right?

No, it’s faulty business logic.  Simply assuming a small percent of any total audience will do anything is really dangerous, and something that savvy entrepreneurs know or learn in Marketing 101.  “There are 100 million people living in this area of the U.S.  If I build a better mousetrap that costs $1, and if only 1 percent of those 100 million buy my mousetrap, I’ll have a million dollars!”

First, not all 100 million care about trapping mice.  Others won’t pay even $1 for it.  Still others don’t live near a store where they would be sold, and wouldn’t order it online or by other ways.

Estimating audiences is an art and a science.  Estimating the audiences for paid content involves more art than science, but I hope news orgs will start with understanding what online audiences want.  It doesn’t do much good to set these types of numbers based on what the news orgs need to desperately meet their revenue goals.

E-mail newsletter benchmarks

Here are some benchmarks to use as a guide when setting KPI goals for e-mail newsletters or alerts.  The open rate and the bounce rates are the most important.

The benchmarks come from a study by a e-mail vendor featured in an eMarketer story.

Metric Low High
Open rate 20% 31%
Click rate 4% 7%
Soft bounce rate .1% 2%
Hard bounce rate .3% 3%
Unsubscribe rate .4% .5%


The open rate is the most important; the total number of subscribers much less so.  You’re not engaging your audiences if you’re pushing e-mails to them but they’re deleting them without even looking at them.

If the content in your newsletter is pretty complete in itself (e.g., breaking news alerts, news briefs), your click-through rate will be low.  You might not even want to monitor it.

Not all e-mail newsletters should relentlessly focus on pushing traffic to sites.  Segment your audiences and ask each segment how they would most like to get your content.  Perhaps an audience largely gets its e-mails via a smartphone, and don’t want to link to a site.

A little bit of engagement – subscribing to and regularly reading your e-mails – is better than none at all.

Hard bounce:  The number of e-mails returned due to invalid e-mail addresses or spam filters.

Soft bounce:  The number of e-mails returned due to temporary reasons such as inboxes being too full or the subscribers’ e-mail services being down.


Count “active” users, not totals

It’s tempting to measure success by the total number of unique visitors.  Total UVs, total registered users, total paid subscribers – they are all nice, round numbers bandied and crowed about in the newsroom and in the media, just like circulation.

Circulation (or readership) and the circulation penetration (the percent of the households reached) are the correct success metrics for mass media print, partly because they’re drivers behind advertising decisions.

Online is a niche, interactive medium.  It’s far more important to measure the number of active users – however you define “active” – and what those active users did or didn’t do.

As Neil Mason in ClickZ writes, measuring only total users is “a case of be careful what you measure, because what you measure is what you get.

“Because the business was focused on measuring registrations, the drive was to generate as many registered users as possible, irrespective of
the quality of those registrations and whether they were likely to actually do anything valuable on the site.”

Totals do no harm.  But they don’t tell you what you need to retain your audiences and attract new ones.

Seattle’s “resurgent” audiences

I'm not convinced that the Seattle Times' 30 percent increase in print circulation, as reported by the New York Times, is cause for much optimism.

First, the increase comes from former Post-Intelligencer subscribers.  These are dyed-in-the-wool newspaper people.  We love them, but they are not new audiences.

Secondly, increases in advertising revenue no longer neatly correlate with print circulation increases.  Even when the economy picks up, I doubt that The Times will get a substantial ad revenue bump from either rate increases or new advertisers. 

Advertisers are reaching their customers in new ways; the old business models just don't apply.  The costs of providing the print edition – newsprint, ink, delivery – for 365 days a year to 30 percent more subscribers aren't covered by subscription revenue, and are now unlikely to be covered by advertising. 

The New York Times article points out that seems to have "kept most of the reader traffic it had as a newspaper site."  Also, past Seattle Times and P-I staffers have started a number of local news sites.

The audiences for news in Seattle haven't grown.  They've just shifted, from print P-I to print Seattle Times, and, increasingly, from print to online.