The New York Times Entering The Infomercial Business?

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By Bill Hildebolt

Better start this one with a disclaimer: the New York Times is one of the finest, most credible news organizations in the world. They have super smart people that work like crazy and do a fabulous job walking the complicated ethical boundaries of their profession. The fact that the individual exceptions get so much attention just proves the rule.

But the point of this blog is how fast things are changing on the business side of the media business and how we’re often not appreciating those changes. So I’m going to tell a short story from our past. It’s meant to be illustrative. If it comes off as critical, let’s accept it as being self-critical for our own inability to communicate the future we’ve been seeing.

Eighteen months ago a (very smart) business partner with a (very) big title got excited about what we were doing in the area of ‘advertising as programming.’ And so he said, “you should talk to the New York Times Venture Group and I’m going to make it happen.” What does one say to that other than, “GREAT!”

I have no idea who he talked to & it doesn’t matter. But being the good friend he is, he gave us the direct feedback over the phone a couple of weeks later and it wasn’t good. It ran something like this, “This was a non-starter for them. In fact, there was, well, a shudder of repulsion at the idea of advertising being treated as programming. It’s kind of inconceivable based on the whole mission of the Times and they didn’t even want to entertain it.” As brutal as it was to hear that, I remember not being surprised.

Maybe that’s why, even with all that’s happened in the intervening time, I was still a little surprised to open up paidcontent this morning to see that the New York Times has entered the infomercial business (oh yes, it’s not even that newsworthy…you have to go all of the way to the bottom of David Kaplan’s article to find it). Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s the right thing for them to do. And I don’t think they’ll do it in any way other than a perfectly appropriate one for both marketers and consumers. But don’t get me wrong, the Times, they are a ‘changin.

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