Broadcasting’s blindspot: site registration

Broadcasting’s blindspot: site registration.
The Washington Post will begin a more indepth site registration process for their highly profitable Website. According to the paper, users will be asked to provide a job title, a description of their primary responsibility, the size of their company and the industry in which they work. Users will also have to provide an e‑mail address and password to enter the site. The site already requires gender, age and Zip code. Users who provide Zip codes in the Washington area will also have to give their home address.

The more specific demographic information gleaned from the registrations allows media companies to charge more for advertisements targeted to the groups most likely to buy a product or service, according to online experts.

“We are confident that this new registration initiative will help to continue the remarkable growth we’ve seen in ad revenue,” Caroline Little, chief executive and publisher of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

And she’s not kidding. Total revenue from the company’s online publishing activities, mainly, grew 30 percent, to $46.9 million, in 2003 from $35.9 million in 2002.

The site had 5.1 million visitors in December, so you might be asking why they would want to mess with a successful equation? After all, aren’t some people likely to balk at the intrusion?

Newspapers are far ahead of broadcasters when it comes to understanding online customers, because their historical business model isn’t based entirely on reach and frequency. However, TV revenue is entirely built on numbers of eyeballs, albeit those within certain advertiser-friendly demographic groups. I’m opposed to subscriber fees for most news sites, because every survey I’ve seen indicates users would much rather deal with advertising than pay for content. However, contextual advertising — driven by a database — is THE revenue model for the Internet, and you can’t do that without registration. This is a blindspot that’s hard for broadcasters to get beyond. “If I force my users to register, what’s to keep them from going to my competitor?” The question comes from a broadcasting mindset, because television revenue doesn’t know anything beyond reach and frequency or “gross rating points.”

The problem is that it takes a great deal more sophistication than that to produce results for advertisers online, effort that — as The Washington Post has shown — can be very, very profitable.

Register your users, because one day everybody will do it, and you certainly don’t want to be last in your market.


  1. Laura Williams says

    What concerns me about the enthusiasm for registration is that it assumes people provide true information.

  2. Romenesko had some interesting comments on this Wednesday, but I don’t view it as the issue many do. The advertising success stories would suggest that far more are honest about it than not. The only thing I draw the line on is email. The only reason a site wants my email address is to use it. Beyond that, what harm is there in providing demographic information?

    By the same logic, who’s to say that people don’t lie in their Nielsen diaries? It’s an imperfect marketing world.

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