WSJ Experiments With Content Access; Snapchat Buys Search Startup Vurb

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Sub Not Required

The Wall Street Journal is poking new holes in its paywall, Nieman Lab reports. The Journal’s affluent readership gives it leeway to charge high subscription fees, but it turns out blocking content often doesn’t convert non-subscribers. The Journal is experimenting with 24-hour guest passes and the ability to share free articles via social media. And it’s targeting users based on their past article preferences to get more readers to subscribe. “Our job is to strike a balance between understanding how we protect the destination that is our brand, and also work with the consumer behavior of using distributed platforms as a gateway into news and information, and into the wider web,” said Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer at Dow Jones. More.

Snapping Up Search

Snapchat will acquire search startup Vurb for more than $110M, The Information reports. Vurb set out to reinvent mobile search by browsing around social behavior rather than listing results; for example, users can search for movie times, theaters and nearby restaurants, package them together and share with friends for collaborative decision-making. It’s not clear what Vurb will do for Snapchat, but possibilities include allowing users to make plans by turning queries into map links, or functioning as a sort of news feed that aggregates information on trending topics alongside Snapchat’s more polished Discover content. More at TechCrunch.

A Serious Game

“I would argue sports are the linchpin holding the entire post-war economic order together,” writes Ben Thompson at Stratechery. That’s a pretty big claim, but it’s true at least for the global world of media and advertising. Over the past five years non-sports broadcast advertising dropped at a rate of 1% per year, while sports advertising saw steady growth across the board. Thus the intense media fixation on NBC’s fraying Olympic ratings. If sports aren’t around to hold together cable bundles and attract huge sums from marketers who need live, scaled audiences to counterbalance super-targeted digitally native brands (see: Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club), then all the networks are in for a rough ride. More.

Brandware

Verizon supposedly offered to install brands’ apps on subscribers’ home screens for $1 or $2 a pop, reports Garett Sloane at Ad Age. Android smartphone owners (Apple doesn’t allow those kind of shenanigans) would find the apps on their phones when the devices are activated, though it’s unclear if Verizon gets paid just to pre-install or if the downloads must be retained. "It's a low-threshold, low-cost way to gain scale, but if you don't have a follow-up strategy for engagement then you'll probably have a lot of waste," said one anonymous agency source. More.

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