Bryan Moffet is the vp of digital strategy at National Public Media, a joint-owned subsidiary of NPR, PBS and WGBH in Boston. NPM represents the digital and network radio/TV inventory of NPR and PBS to corporate sponsors, which includes the popular NPR and PBS iPhone and iPad apps. He spoke to DIGIDAY about why NPM chose native over web apps, what’s holding back ad dollars in mobile, and the issues publishers face when building apps. Follow him on Twitter @BryanMoffett
When it comes to mobile, it seems like NPM is everywhere. Is there a lean to one type of platform over another? Apps or mobile web?
Because of our unique position selling sponsorship, we have leaned heavily on iOS to date. Both NPR and PBS have strict guidelines that govern sponsorship – particularly what can be said in a banner or audio credit. We disallow transactional calls to action, price/value information, and qualitative language, and the smaller the banner unit, the more difficult it can be for sponsors to invite user interaction. IOS apps give us a lot of flexibility to integrate the sponsorship into the app itself, rather than just rely on small banners embedded in a page. This helps us find the right balance between impact for sponsors and our non-commercial nature. In the iPad, for example, we sell a session roadblock. The sponsor is integrated into the navigation of the app, and users see one full-page interstitial unit backed by a familiar, short NPR-style audio credit. The unit is a good balance between impact for sponsors (we have seen clickthrough rates north of 10 percent), and low intrusion on users. We’re starting to see tools offer similar approaches on the mobile web, and I suspect this will be the year we move the needle in that area for our clients.
Are brands looking for mobile specific solutions from NPM, or is mobile advertising most often bundled with web or radio?
It’s interesting. Three years ago, the strategy was very much to tap into our existing radio sponsors and extend them onto our digital platforms. In the past year or two, we’ve seen a shift, where digital is starting to lead the conversation and secure new sponsors who eventually expand into our traditional media assets. The iPad and iPhone have driven that shift, for sure. We bundle very frequently across radio, digital and mobile for our sponsors, and have found through research that reaching our users on multiple platforms can significantly improve the impact and benefit of a sponsorship.
What is holding mobile advertising back from taking a bigger piece of a brands advertising budget?
Creative support and tracking. To do something really unique, like Visa did on the NPR iPad app, takes a lot of time, effort and involvement from all parties – publisher, advertiser, agency, creative shop and mobile ad vendor. Even for more simple in-app rich media, there’s a learning curve that’s constantly changing, and there’s a lot of inconsistency over what can be tracked and how it must be tracked. Third-party tracking of in-app rich media ads and the actions within them has been troublesome in these early days.
What are the big issues on the publisher side?
Probably the complexity. Building iOS apps is like pouring concrete. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive just to build new features into an app with regularity, and user uptake of those new builds can be inconsistent and slow. The need to bake in custom advertiser SDKs to handle rich media ads puts significant strain on an already difficult process, and you also have the vagaries of infrequent user updates and sporadic Apple iOS updates. We had a two occasions where a last-minute, undocumented feature in an iOS upgrade from Apple broke our sponsorship experience. There’s no fast way to deal with that. Building a fix in an app update takes days, and then it can be days or even weeks before Apple approves and releases the update, and even longer before users actually download it. That’s a long time for a bad experience to linger. It’s got to be simplified.
What are your thoughts on mobile ad networks? iAds? Is the Greystripe acquisition a good thing for the space?
Neither NPR nor PBS use ad networks – everything we do is direct-sold — so I can’t comment with any authority on that space. I do think iAd has been great for the industry, though, in that it focused the advertising world on compelling rich media executions in apps. We’d been using the Medialets platform to do exactly that for more than a year before iAd came out, so it was great to see that approach validated. I think we’ll see a lot of shakeups in the space over the next year, but in the end I’d like to see simple, uniform approaches that allow primary display ad servers to handle the serving logic with simple ad calls in apps or mobile, and let publishers and agencies choose from a variety of rich media platforms that can be used to build and serve compelling creative.