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Global’s website looks to ‘branded content’ to snare digital ad dollars

Global’s new website and its related mobile sites will feature editorial content commissioned by advertisers, but produced by journalists.

Anna Bryukhanova

Global News' new digital sites are about more than breaking news – they are an attempt by one of Canada's largest broadcasters to get in on one of the only bright spots in an otherwise stagnant advertising market for media companies across North America.

The company said Monday its new website (globalnews.ca) and its related mobile sites will feature editorial content commissioned by advertisers, but produced by journalists. As other forms of digital advertising recede, companies have shown a willingness to spend on branded content as they try and engage consumers who often ignore more obvious forms of advertising.

The content can take various forms – one model sees a company buy ad space around a "broad theme of interest to an advertiser," but the company doesn't have any control over the editorial content that ultimately appears on the site. Companies can also directly commission stories, but they would be produced by "an independent writer/producer who is not a member of Global News editorial staff."

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"Brands are willing to spend money on branded and sponsored content because their message is more likely to be heard via content than advertising," said Chris Hogg, chief executive officer of branded content specialists Digital Journal Inc. "If done well, branded content can be presented in a consumption format consumers are accustomed to – so engagement, sharing and click-through rates will often outperform traditional banner ad responses."

The strategy is increasingly common – news outlets including The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star are also trying to court advertisers for similar projects.

Global already works with advertisers to produce branded and sponsored content on its television newscasts, said Ron Waksman, senior director of online and current affairs. Some examples include a series on women's health and another on immigration – both were sponsored by large corporations.

He said there are strict editorial rules imposed to ensure advertisers can't meddle with content, and that the television network "turns down a lot more sponsored series than we accept."

"There is an opportunity here," said Mr. Waksman. "Quite frankly, we need to monetize our online properties effectively and this offers a diversified revenue stream and can bring in some digital dollars instead of digital dimes. I don't think anyone can rely on display ads anymore."

The television network has also bulked up its reporting, hiring reporters to research data-driven stories and assigning others to particular beats to increase their expertise. Commodity news – a term used increasingly by industry executives to refer to breaking news stories that every outlet covers (in most cases in very similar ways) – will not be a major focus as it competes online against not only other television stations but also newspapers and websites.

The new site is built with responsive technology, which means it reformats itself depending on the type of device being used to view the content.

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"Original content is very important to us," Mr. Waksman said. "We tell everyone that our competition is everyone. But we believe our secret weapon is local news video – we gather the most superior local news in most Canadian markets … we need to we fit into the consumers life from when they wake up and check their iPhone, move to their computer during the day and then check a few videos before going to bed."

Tracy Stokes, an analyst at market research firm Forrester, said in a recent report that the challenge for media companies is ensuring they are producing content that the advertisers feel will get them in front of the right people. This is especially important online, she said, as companies are able to use online measuring to determine the effectiveness of their spending.

"Branded content has the ability to create brand differentiating by bridging the gap between TV's emotive power and digital media's efficient reach," she said. "But marketers are struggling to build content at scale – to get the right message to the right consumer at the right time."

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