Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Hockey fans like donuts: why it could make online news content more valuable

May 29, 2012, 9:24 a.m., Posted by Benoit Wirz

hockey

Photo Credit: Flickr user slidingsideways

Here’s a news flash: Hockey fans like donuts. Dunkin Donuts, to be more precise. And to be even more specific, a significant portion of the 2.5 million fans who visit the Boston Bruins website every month also like Dunkin Donuts. Earth shattering, I know.

Here’s the thing: What if I were the Boston Bruins, and you were Dunkin Donuts and I could actually prove this to you? I could show you precisely how many of my monthly visitors were fans of your product, and give you a really clear picture of who those fans were, and how they matched up with the types of fans you were trying to reach with your advertising: wouldn’t you be more likely to buy advertising directly from me and pay me a decent price for it?

Most online publishers are unable to easily gather granular data about their audience. According to Pew, less than 4% of newspapers’ digital ad revenue today comes from targeted ads. It is difficult and expensive to get the granular market research that advertisers require to make buying decisions. Data-driven ad networks that can provide some of this information buy ad inventory in bulk, driving down ad revenue for original publishers by 5-10 times.

The reason the Knight Enterprise Fund is so excited to announce our investment in audience measurement technology company Umbel, is that it creates a real opportunity for publishers to better understand their audience and approach brands directly, thereby boosting their digital ad revenue. Umbel does this by correlating audience social information (Facebook, Twitter, Flurry, etc) with web analytics (Google Analytics, Omniture, etc.) and other data to create anonymized, rich user profiles. Highly scalable, Umbel aggregates these profiles and provides intuitive, detailed insight into who an audience is and what brands, events and causes they care about. It also automates the production of tear sheets and real-time segmented panels for advertising buyers.

By enabling news information providers to become more data driven, Umbel could make original online news content much more valuable. This is the type of disruptive innovation that the Enterprise Fund was set up to support and bring to media organizations we care about, and we are really pleased to have joined Austin Ventures in funding Umbel's recent $3.7 million round.  

Founded by HO Maycotte, the former CTO of the Texas Tribune (a nonprofit media company and Knight grantee) Umbel can play a particularly important role for non-profit media sources. Many need to better understand their audiences both to maximize impact and to more effectively solicit sponsors, philanthropic funders and the audience itself to produce the kind of ancillary revenues (membership, events, specialty publications, etc.) that are vital for their survival. In addition, these analytics could be valuable for the nonprofit media field as a whole, helping to show more precisely what audiences are being reached across the media landscape. Umbel's current clients include the Texas Tribune, BostInnovate as well as the Boston Bruins -- prompting the shocking but true connection between hockey and donuts outlined above.

Through the News Challenge and other initiatives, we have found a growing number of early stage for-profit media innovation companies that align well with Knight’s mission, namely to promote informed and engaged communities. The Knight Enterprise Fund was launched last year to invest in some of these companies as a complement to our grant making. These are still early days. But, as we ramp up our investment activity, we are finding that the Enterprise Fund is helping us to better stay abreast of the field, and, with investments like Umbel, are enabling the for and nonprofit sectors to inform, complement and improve each other.

By Ben Wirz, director/business consulting at Knight Foundation