Monday, February 23, 2009
Interview with Vince Bianco, Newsforce
San Diego-based Newsforce (www.newsforce.com) is a startup which is looking to take advantage of the hunger of the newspaper and media business for revenue, and has created a product which takes press releases and commercial content, and inserts them onto news sites in "sponsored content" blocks. We spoke with Vince Bianco, the firm's CEO, about the company and its services.
Tell us a little bit about Newsforce?
Vince Bianco: Newsforce is a premium online network, made up exclusively of digital news sites. When I say news sites, I mean publications like the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune--premium sites online. Our clients can promote any content they want on those sites, with guaranteed exposure. When I say content, I mean articles, press releases, advertorial, opinion--any editorial type of content. That's what our network does, in essence, for our clients.
What's the story behind Newsforce--how did the company come about?
Vince Bianco: The company has been around since 2006, and we started by launching an SEO tool for press releases for professionals. The wizard, which you can find on Newsforce.com, essentially allows anybody, with little or no SEO experience, to optimize their press release for search, prior to sending it over the wire. It has a keyword analyzer in it, and also notifies you three hours, one day, and one week after sending it out over the wire what your ranking is in the Google search results. We also show you screen shots and everything of the search result pages. So that's how we started three years ago, and we now have a partnership with BusinessWire, one of the two largest wire services out there. Our tool is integrated onto their site. Our second product, which we launched, is the premium news network. As I mentioned earlier, that allows clients to get exposure for their content, above the fold on premium news sites--bypassing the editorial channel. We call it storytelling media.
Why do news sites agree to use your service--doesn't this degrade their value to readers, which is their editorial?
Vince Bianco: As you know, all newspaper companies have gone through a tough period of time in the last few years. There is no secret that they are struggling on the print side. They have lost lots of advertising and subscription revenue, because you can get news online, and it's free. If somebody tries to charge for news online, you can just go and find it somewhere else for free. There are tons of places online for people to get news. On the flip side, online, the news sites have seen dramatic increases in readership over that same period of time. The irony, is as they're losing on the print side, they've had huge increases in eyeballs online on the digital side. There have been hundreds of millions of unique visitors on news sites in the U.S. alone. But, only about 30 percent of their pages are monetized, the other 70 percent they sell at a very low CPM to advertising networks. News sits have struggled to find a model to monetize their sites, because online is only making up for some of that lost revenue on the print side. What we do, is we give them a way to dip into a completely different budget than they normally go after, instead of the advertising budget. Number two, we allow them to be able to offer a little carve out on their site for companies who want to tell their own story. Those companies are ones they don't have time to write about, or don't have an interest in, or who they just don't have the resources to write about. More and more news sites are getting content from third party sources, because they have laid off their employees, and have minimal staff. So, we've been embraced by news sites, and news companies as a way for them to try to expand their revenue base, and find new ways to monetize all those eyeballs. We have a unique way of doing it, which is not text ads, not display ads, but actually a storyboard to let people tell their own stories.
Traditionally, advertorials have not been looked upon favorably by the journalism business. Have you had any issues with that here?
Vince Bianco: No. The only issue we have run across, is that news sites want to make sure we call out our story box as advertising, and we do that. It's labeled as sponsored content, and we don't try to hid the fact that this is not real news, that it is commercial news, and sponsored news. It's very, very clear to readers when looking at the story board on a new site, that it is sponsored. We did an eye tracking study recently, incidentally, which used cameras fixed on user eyeballs, to see how they were looking at news pages and reading news, to see if they would pay attention to anything other than the editorial on a page. We found that very little attention was paid to banner ads and a leaderboard going across the top of a page--it was almost immeasureable. We also had a Google text box above us, which got a little attention. But, they got up to 50 percent eye gaze on our headlines. And, 85% of the people in the study said they understood that it was sponsored content, but were interested in scanning the headlines and reading anyway. That validated the theory that news begets other news, that it's a more appropriate unit for news sites to include other editorial or commercial content, even if that is commercial in nature. Users want to hear about stories and special interest articles, and we allow companies to tell their story, and for users to interact with their brands.
How long has this new product been available?
Vince Bianco: Our network launched in October of last year, and we have been growing ever since. It's been around for five months so far. We're expanding into other news centric sites, such as user-generated news, big blogs, etc. We want to continue to expand our footprint on to the premium sites that are news centric, but just started with the household names.
How are you backed?
Vince Bianco: It's backed by the founders, and we also have some angel investors who have invested in the company. We haven't raised any institutional money at this point.
How has the economy affected advertising placements on your network?
Vince Bianco: Every is forecasting a downturn in advertising, and we've certainly felt a little bit of that as well. The main way it has affected us, is that clients are delaying a little because their budgets are being cut or frozen. Especially in December and January, there was just very little activity. If you've spoken to any ad network or advertising salesperson, I think you would have heard the same thing. We're not immune to that, however, we're seeing a pickup and seeing money freed up, and expect to continue our growth this year and get through.
Finally, what's your goal for the next few months?
Vince Biano: What we'd like to do, from an engineering standpoint, is finish our software interface, and bring out the next generation of that. We're also going to continue to grow--as I mentioned earlier, we are growing--and even if it's a little slower than we forecasted, we celebrate every new client. We want to get through this year with some nice growth, and we have a couple of engineering things we'd like to accomplish as well.