Paul SmurlGeneral Manager, Core Digital ProductsThe New York Times Co.
The New York Times Co. has been ramping up its tablet efforts since the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010. For our Media Voices series, Paul Smurl, general manager of core digital products at the company, spoke with eMarketer’s Rimma Kats about tablet usage vs. smartphone usage and the value of the multiscreen customer.
eMarketer: Is tablet use affecting smartphone usage?
Paul Smurl: Both are growing so dramatically that it’s hard to say one is cannibalizing the other. We’re finding that desktop usage is not growing as fast as it once was. However, we are not seeing what appears to be a stripping away of usage from smartphone devices by tablets. They’re both growing at really accelerated rates.
eMarketer: How does the value of consumers who use both a smartphone and tablet to access your content compare with those who access it through one device, such as a desktop?
Smurl: The more engaged users are, the more valuable they obviously are from an advertising perspective. And the more engaged they are, the more likely they are to encounter the pay gate and, ultimately, become a subscriber. So those users who are committed and loyal to us across platforms, using multiple devices and apps, are much more valuable, from both an advertising and a subscription perspective.
eMarketer: What’s the difference in usage between your smartphone and tablet users?
Smurl: The usage is heavier in the morning, especially for news content because users are trying to get the news before they head out the door. And, they’re going to take their smartphone on the commute, but not their tablet. In the evening, the usage is a little lighter because people are catching up on the news and what happened and getting some perspective, but they’re using their tablets more, at least in the evening, as an entertainment or second-screen device.
eMarketer: Where do you see second-screen experiences heading in the coming years?
Smurl: I like what we’ve done with the Oscars, where we’ve got a ballot dashboard and have live video coverage on the red carpet as the show is airing. I would love to see us do more coverage around major events like that, whether it’s the Oscars, the US Open, fashion shows or the Olympics. I think we have a real role to play in rounding out that experience for people—because the TV experience is so flat, noninteractive and unsocial.
Especially if you’re watching it on television and want to just tune out the commercials filling in those interstices during your viewing—just making the experience more fun, interactive and social. I think publishers have a real competitive edge there.
eMarketer: Will tablet usage continue to increase?
Smurl: It just keeps growing. People are replacing their laptop or desktop at home with tablets, and that trend is just going to continue. As a publisher, it’s really hard to build for all of the different screen sizes and do a really high-quality job in customizing the experience to each device. I’m hoping we get a little more standardization on that front.
eMarketer: You recently brought standardized rich media ads to your iPad app. Can you talk about that effort?
Smurl: There’s no surprise that it’s historically been difficult to integrate, develop for and create stable rich media ads in an app environment. So a lot of publishers have struggled with that, and advertisers have been pushing for more stability and more options.
The platform enables us to do things we hadn’t been able to do before. Previously, users were pulled away from the reading experience and plopped into the iTunes store—it was more jarring. Now the platform, in addition to enabling that stuff within advertising units, also creates a much more stable back-end experience.
eMarketer: Is fragmentation still a big issue for marketers?
Smurl: Yes, it’s a big issue for marketers, for publishers, even for consumers in terms of deciding what product to buy. We struggle with this ourselves—trying to make sense of all of that and putting it in context for consumers is challenging. No question about it.
You sort of toggle between the very straightforward Netflix approach, which is one flat price for all access. You compare that against consumers’ stated desire to have more control over exactly what product they have and on what device. There’s a little bit of pull in both directions. On one hand, you’ve got the “one bundle, one price” group of customers who just want all-access.
On the other hand, you’ve got segments of customers who feel like it’s a waste of money if they’re subscribing to something they never use, so they want a little more choice. That’s a constant tension, and it plays out in making marketing and communicating those options more difficult.
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