With today’s update to its iPhone app The Scoop, The New York Times may have accomplished something that advertisers and publishers often boast about but rarely achieve — it may have found a genuinely useful way to incorporate sponsored content.
And the update isn’t only relevant to New Yorkers (who can actually take advantage of The Scoop’s recommendations for the best restaurants, bars, coffee shops and more), but also to observers of the Times as a business, suggesting new ways that the company could monetize its content on mobile. The Times said this is the first time it has featured advertising content outside of an actual ad unit in one of its mobile apps.
The Times’ mobile product manager Dan Blumberg told me that when users open the updated app, the main menu will include an additional icon for Citi Bike, the new bikesharing service operated by NYC Bike Share. When users tap on the icon, they’ll see a map showing data from the Citi Bike app, specifically nearby Citi Bike locations and the current number of bikes and docks. The map will also show the location of Times editorial picks for the best restaurants and coffee shops.
So if you’re thinking about going out and you like to bike, or at least you aren’t set on a specific mode of transportation, this could be a way to figure out where you’re going and how you can get there — something that The Scoop could conceivably have included even if Citi Bike weren’t an advertiser. At the same time, Alexandra Hardiman, executive director of mobile products at the Times, noted that the Citi Bike icon will be clearly marked as sponsored: “There will be no confusion for users about whether or not they’re looking at a piece of advertiser content.”
Hardiman said that this update is “part of a larger strategic relationship” with Citibank, and that there’s no specific end date planned for the integration between The Scoop and Citi Bike. She added that the integration goes both ways, with the bike-sharing service’s own smartphone app adding listings from The Scoop later this summer.
As for how campaigns like this might apply to other Times apps, Hardiman argued that her team has “more latitude” to do something like this in The Scoop, which doesn’t run hard news. (Other standalone apps from The Times include The New York Times Real Estate app and a fashion app called The Collection.) This is very much an experiment, she said, but she could “see lessons coming out of it — things that we could extend to other properties.”