Times Internet, the digital arm of the Times Group, has extended its native and content advertising reach with the launch of Columbia Traffic Network; the company announced at the ongoing ad:tech Delhi. Columbia Traffic Network (CTN) is part of the Times adCenter, a digital advertising platform that the company had launched last year. It also follows a continuing effort by the company to bring all facets of ad tech in-house and create a unified ad platform for advertisers encompassing all its digital properties.
CTN is a native ad platform and will also focus on content ads; similar to what platforms like Outbrain do. The platform works on a recommendation model and will be open for all content publishers. Swapnil Shirvastav, VP (Ad Tech) of Times Internet told us that CTN would have server side integration with other demand side publishers.
The launch of CTN is an important step forward for India’s largest English news publisher as it seeks to utilize the immense reach of its digital properties (80 million unique visitors per month across desktop and mobile says the company). Speaking to exchange4media, Shrivastav said, “We have the largest premium inventory pool and we want to leverage this asset.”
He also said that adCenter creates a thorough understanding of the visitor depending on the content that is being consumed. Shrivastav labels this the USP of Times’ digital advertising strategy.
So does Times plan to take on the likes of Google? That does not seem to be the plan right now but it might be on the cards in the long run. “There are striking similarities in the way ad tech stacks are being created by everyone (Google, Facebook, etc.). The measure of how successful you are in targeting depends on how good your algorithm is,” he added. Shrivastav said that Times Internet would continue to work with existing network partners, including Google. He, however, did agree that dependency on other ad networks could reduce as their own ad platform becomes more mature.
Big publishers across the world are actively working to prove their advertising worth to marketers as more and more money gets shifted to digital advertising. In April, The Guardian, CNN International, The Financial Times, Reuters and The Economist will jointly launch the Panagea Alliance; a digital advertising initiative that will allow brands to access their collective digital inventory programmatically. AOL already runs One; a cross-screen programmatic platform that allows advertisers to buy inventory across digital, mobile and TV.
It is therefore not hard to see why Times feels the idea of its own ad platform catering to display, native, video ads and also capable of programmatic trading so enticing. Shrivastav informed us that direct sales will become more and more important for the company though, to be fair, Times has always had a fairly high fill rate for its premium inventory. In fact, in an earlier interview, Shrivastav had told us that this was also one reason why they have still not exposed their premium inventory to programmatic trading.
The immediate hope, said Shrivastav, is to have at least 100 new advertisers on CTN in the next two quarters. This is in addition to the number of internal brands and a few others that have been testing the platform over the last couple of months, though Shrivastav would not take any names.
Despite the high expectations from CTN and native advertising, Shrivastav says display advertisement will continue to be the main digital asset. “It (display) will continue to be our bread and butter but we are seeing demand for native advertising,” he said. When asked how much digital advertising contributed to overall revenues, Shrivastav said that it is a small percentage but is the fastest growing.
The next step for Times Internet and Shrivastav is to expand inventory beyond their own digital properties. But it is something that is still too early to talk about said Shrivastav, though he said beta tests are going on and we could see progress later in the year. Times already handles digital ad sales for local partners like Ad Age, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, Lifehacker, TechRadar, Business Insider, etc. Shrivastav said