While NPR is facing funding battles in Congress (that as of press time they may have won), the public radio network has been quietly laying the groundwork for a nationwide online advertising network that could massively increase underwriting dollars at member stations. The move is part of a much larger and audacious plan on NPR's part: The idea that local public radio affiliates can be transformed into news portals on par with local newspapers.
As for the advertising network, NPR's new project one-ups Google and other giants of the online ad industry. One of the keystones of the network will be the ability for NPR to place locally targeted sponsorship buys inside audio streams—essentially allowing advertisements to be placed inside live streams of NPR affiliate programming.
Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab recently spoke with NPR Digital Services' Keith Hopper, who summarized the new ad network:
The ad-network (an inexact name, but one that describes it nonetheless) would make it possible for sponsors to make underwriting buys that could reach state, regional, or national levels, said Keith Hopper, Digital Services’ director of product development. Though all stations have sales operations for dealing with sponsorships, this network would provide underwriting from larger or national companies that don’t necessarily reach out to smaller stations, Hopper said. The sponsors would go through National Public Media and stations would likely have the choice to opt-in to buys from national underwriters.
But what could make this a big deal is the ability to serve sponsorship online and for audio streams. "In-stream ads are a big opportunity," Hopper said.
A launch date for the new advertising network has not been announced.
The advertising network is just one part of NPR Digital Services' fascinating toolkit for public radio stations, most of which is accessible to the public. Digital Services, which began as a Web-services company owned by Public Radio International, now primarily serves as a new media developer for the larger NPR family.
According to Nieman's Justin Ellis, NPR is also developing an in-house web analytics system:
They are also planning to offer support for analytics, Suzanne Brendle, Digital Services’ director of client services, told me. It’s not that audience numbers are a foreign concept to stations, she said, but at the moment, there is a greater emphasis on ratings and Arbitron numbers rather than on total visitors and monthly uniques. What Digital Services wants to do is get stations tracking online stats more closely—and in a standardized fashion. Just as some newspapers use Omniture and others use Google Analytics, member stations use different analytics strategies. By working off uniform measurement approaches, stations can adapt to web traffic with the same vigor as they put into tweaking on-air programming, Brendle said
Most of NPR Digital Services' web applications and services can be browsed by the public on its web site. We're particular fans of their sweet, sweet online newsroom.
Read More: Why the NYT Should Go NPR
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