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Building a Mobile Media Channel
The Big Media Way
Interview with Jeff Sellinger, Exec VP and GM, CBS Mobile

jeff_225×300.gifCBS Corporation is one of the world’s largest media companies, incorporating such well known media brands as CBS TV Network, CW, Showtime, Simon & Schuster and CBS Radio. CBS Mobile, a division of CBS Interactive Inc., is one of the world’s largest mobile media companies.

Jeff Sellinger recently took over the role of EVP-GM of CBS Mobile, and he was kind enough to spend some time with MobiAD News to provide an in-depth look at CBS Mobile and how they are approaching mobile advertising.

The Scope of CBS Mobile
To really understand CBS Mobile, first of all you need to get an idea of the size and scope of their activities. CBS Mobile is actually comprised of several different businesses.

  • There is a 24/7 mobile TV network, called CBS Mobile, which is distributed on the Verizon network (and soon on ATT as well). This is a fully stand alone network that broadcasts 24 hours a day – they have their own broadcast center, trafficking, promotions activities.
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  • CBS has multiple mobile video channels on the 3 largest US carriers, including a sports channel, an entertainment channel, a news channel, plus a recently launched comedy channel with the wonderful name CBS LOL (LOL is IM chat and SMS slang for “laughing out loud”).
  • They also run a variety of mobile web sites. One of the biggest and best known is CBS Sports, which in Q4 did 75 million mobile page views, with 5 million uniques, making it one of the largest sites on the mobile internet. There is also CBS News mobile site, CW TV, and soon they will be a CBS Entertainment mobile site as well.
  • There is also a very interesting CBS Mobile Alerts service. These are breaking News and Sports alerts, sent throughout the day, that include video and pictures depending on the capability of the customers handset. “As far as we know, these are the only video alerts in big media today” says Jeff.
  • CBS Mobile also runs the interactive mobile component for some of the big CBS television properties, for example the voting for Big Brother or CSI New York. There is also of course a variety of mobile content, such as ringtones and wall paper, mobile games, mobile applications.
  • The final business unit is mobile advertising, which, as Jeff points out “really cuts across all the other business units.”

He explained a bit more the current focus: “Where people are talking about mobile advertising most today is with the mobile web, as that’s where you can get the scale. All of our sites are ad-supported, and we think we can create a ‘win-win-win’ situation, for our users, our advertisers, and for CBS.”

Personalization Is Key

One of the basic tenets of mobile advertising is that relevancy will be key to customer acceptance. CBS seems to be a firm believer in the value of personalization, and is doing a lot in this area. “The more we can do to target and personalize, then the better service we have, as we will only be interrupting your life at that moment when it is completely relevant to you,” explained Jeff.

The CBS strategy for increasing personalization and relevance has a number of components.

Personalized Sites: First of all, on many sites the user must sign in, and by managing, for example, their fantasy sports teams, they are providing some level of personalization information which can be used to provide relevant advertising messages.

jeff_cbsnews.gifBehavioural Targeting: On a broader basis, CBS recently signed an agreement with Aggregate Knowledge, which is a behavioral targeting company that looks at usage patterns both for an individual as well as for a community as a whole. “It starts to follow paths of people and make recommendations,” Jeff explained.

The Aggregate Knowledge system has first been implemented on the CBS News mobile site. “The site can offer recommended headlines based on a history of what you like, and it also starts to recommend headlines that other people who read this article liked,” he continued.

Location: Another means of personalization is location-based. CBS Mobile has teamed up with Loopt, which will allow them to target ads by location.

“We’ve had tremendous response from Madison Avenue with regards to location based advertising”, says Jeff. But he also points out that it is early days – the system has been announced but not fully implemented yet – and he is sure “there will be a lot of learning along the way”.

And all of these sources can be combined with other information, such as the time of day, when deciding which ads to show a user. “The more we know our users, the more we can offer relevant ads to them”

A Multi-platform Offering
One of the big advantages that a company like CBS can offer to advertisers is the opportunity for multi-platform advertising. And given the scope of CBS Mobile, this actually includes two things. First of all, advertising can be run across mobile, web and TV properties. And secondly, within mobile, there is also a multi-platform approach, as advertising can placed not only on WAP sites, but also mobile TV, and also on mobile alerts.

“We are able to create a multi-platform, tiered approach for the advertisers, which I think is a big advantage over someone who just has a mobile property. We have seen advertisers come in who just want for instance football, and we can scale it across the web as well.”

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Mobile Advertising Is Not “Experimental”

A question that is often debated is when will mobile advertising become truly mainstream. When we asked Jeff what sort of reaction he is getting from advertisers, he said that in his experience, agencies and brands have accepted mobile advertising and it is becoming a standard part of their business.

“Mobile advertising is not experimental anymore, advertisers are seeing that they can get good response, and they can get the scale and reach they are looking for”.

jeff_quote1.gifOf course there are still some big issues to be addressed. For example, one issue that Jeff identified relates to the current difficulties around media buying. “We think if we can make it easier for agencies to buy, that would definitely help.”

(note: the difficulties in media buying are widely discussed in the industry, see MobiAD post What do Media Buyers Really Want from Mobile).

Making Sales Easy: A Dual Approach

jeff_alert.gifWhen it comes to selling their ad inventory, CBS follows a dual path. “We work with a lot of ad networks, including ThirdScreen Media (now part of AOL), Millenial Media, AdMob, and Rhythm New Media on the video side. But we’ve also taken an even more aggressive approach, by hiring a Senior Vice President of Mobile Ad Sales in New York.”

Although both groups are selling ads on CBS Mobile properties, they have quite distinct roles: the ad networks generally sell categories – like sports – not individual sites. The CBS ad sales team can go out and actually sell the CBS Sport site directly for major campaigns.

Jeff explained the purpose of this dual approach, “From the CBS perspective, we’re trying to make it easy: we’re integrated with ad networks…. and we’ve built our own internal ad sales group with a senior leader to make it as easy as we possibly can.”

What the Future holds

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jeff is very upbeat about the future for mobile advertising: “I may be going out on a limb, but I think that consumers may actually begin to appreciate advertising on the phone. It truly is the most personal device, and I think there is the opportunity to create valuable relevant advertising for the consumers.”

jeff_quote3.gifFor publishers such as CBS Mobile, there are several very significant trends happening in the market today that will greatly impact their opportunities in the future. Jeff identified 3 trends that he thinks will be especially critical:

  • more “on deck” ads, as carriers open up their content portals to advertising. This would mean increased ad inventory for companies like CBS that publish their content on the carrier portals.
  • better targeting in general, including more location based advertising.
  • a more vibrant off-deck video market, along with a lot of experimentation with video ad formats. “You’ll probably see some new formats as people try to find something that is successful. It could be pre-roll combined with banner ads… and ultimately clickable video ads will be very interesting.”

Advice to Other Publishers:

Clearly CBS Mobile has the resources and size that few other publishers can match, and because of that, they are able to address the mobile advertising opportunity on many fronts simultaneously.

jeff_quote2.gifHowever, at the end of the interview, we asked Jeff what advice he would give to other media publishers that are interested in starting mobile advertising. His response reminds us that there are some fundamentals that all publishers, regardless of size, would do well to keep in mind.

“Don’t worry about the advertising first, focus on the content and driving traffic. You do that by creating easy to use sites with relevant content and easy discovery. If you can personalize the experience and get to know your consumers, that will lead you into a successful advertising model.”

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07.05.2008   
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