Can Old Media Beat New Media in Ad War?

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The conventional wisdom is that old media online content gets trumped every time by new media properties, at least when it comes to ad revenue. This does not have to be the case, based on the number of people who visit old media websites.

New media, which did not spring from print or broadcast properties, do have an edge as far as total audience is concerned. ComScore reports that in January, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) sites had 186.6 million unique visitors. AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL) had 111.3 million. Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) sites, mostly MSN, had 169.7 million.

In aggregate, old media online does very well in audience reach. CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) sites had 82.8 million unique visitors in January. Turner, a part of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX), had 79.5 million. NBC Universal, part of Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) had 71 million. Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB) had 69.7 million. Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI) had 50 million. Hearst had 43.1 million. The Top 50 sites by U.S audience also included Meredith Corp. (NYSE: MDP), which probably will combine with Time Inc., The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) properties, Fox Digital and The Tribune online properties.

All of this is a long way of showing that old media has extraordinary reach online, and that as traditional media outlets fail to produce the level of revenue they once did, or are no longer growing as quickly, online revenue has a chance to do better for these companies than it does.

The New York Times reported as part of its fourth-quarter results:

Digital advertising revenues as a percentage of total Company advertising revenues were 24.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with 22.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. For the full year, digital advertising revenues as a percentage of total Company advertising revenues were 23.9 percent in 2012 compared with 22.5 percent in 2011.

Given that the Times had 33.6 million unique visitors online in January, which dwarfs the circulation of the company's properties, the online revenue production is pathetic. The Times will continue to have to cut editorial staff and production costs to remain financially viable. Digital ad growth is too slow to cover the expense needs of the company.

Time Inc., another firm that produces content among the most well-regarded on the Web, will nearly disappear into Meredith, largely because it could not unlock Internet revenue.

Why is new media in such a struggle with old media companies? There is no one answer. Perhaps management has not put enough pressure on sales staffs to press online ad sales. Perhaps the companies have not been adroit enough to create content online that is of as high a quality as their traditional content. Whatever the reasons, it is not a lack of audience.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Internet, Media, Old Media Tagged: AOL, CBS, CMCSA, featured, GCI, MDP, MSFT, NYT, TWX, VIA-B, YHOO