‘Direct revenue driver’: How local broadcaster News 12 is partnering with Google to build a younger audience

Illustration of a white rabbit coming out of a Google hat.

The strain on media companies’ ad businesses during the pandemic has forced publishers to get creative on how they approached everything from content offerings to who fits in their target demographics.

Broadcast news network News 12, which covers local news in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, is far from exempt from this situation. That’s why the broadcaster took part in the Google News Initiative in early 2020 to try and build a new solution to grow its audience — and subsequent advertising revenue — beyond its traditional viewership of 5 million monthly viewers, made up mostly of 35- to 55-year-old women, according to Chris Vaccaro, vp of digital news at Altice USA, parent company of News 12.

GNI provided the funding for News 12 to build a new tool that uses machine learning to contextualize every single video clip produced by the local media company, which typically ranges between 85 and 100 clips per day. Then the tool tags the content with labels like entertainment, sports, crime, COVID or, in this first use case for News 12, lifestyle. From there, all of the content with the same tag can be filtered into one dedicated landing page, app or other web destination. Google and Altice declined to share how much money was dedicated to this project. For Google, this is part of its effort to support the journalism and news industry through financial investment.

For News 12’s first use of the tool launches today as a lifestyle vertical on its website called Spark News 12 that is aimed at growing its millennial viewership.

Lifestyle content tends to be more appealing to audiences between 18- to 34-years-old, according to Benjamin Speight evp and director of client services and strategic initiatives at media buying and planning agency Lockard & Wechsler Direct. “Local news, as well as national news in general, doesn’t really cater to that audience, so it certainly seems to fill a much needed hole for that demographic,” he said.

Since the category of lifestyle content is “broad enough,” it allows the broadcaster to take a significant portion of its pre-existing content and relocate it to a secondary vertical that opens up the opportunity for more opportunity for display, programmatic, direct sold and especially more pre-roll ad placements.

“This is a direct revenue driver,” said Ben Monnie, director of global partnerships solutions for news at Google. “This isn’t audience development for its own sake. It’s with the goal of creating more inventory and creating more relevance with a demographic and audiences that are relevant for advertising.”

The project began in 2020, with the idea first proposed to Google by Vaccaro prior to the pandemic, he said. The new tagging tool was created in-house at New 12 by a few full-time and contracted staffers, all of whom worked on this initiative over the past year in tandem with their other responsibilities, said Vaccaro.

Once the tool was built and established, it became a “set and forget” add-on to News 12’s CMS, Vaccaro added. “It took a conversation between myself and a product manager to set up the category tags and define what type of content you want surfaced.”

Spark News 12 will be promoted primarily via social media to start, Vaccaro said. He declined to share initial audience goals as well as revenue goals, but said that this will be a long term project that has the potential of breaking off into other categories.

“We want to make sure that this allows News 12 to reach new audiences with their journalism and create habituation and loyalty with those users,” said Monnie. 

Beyond News 12, the technology created from this partnership will eventually be available for other news organizations and publishers to plug into their own CMSs and use in a variety of ways as well, Google’s Monnie said, with the goal of specifically supporting local media publishers as they build out new revenue streams.

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