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Local Media's Hidden Asset: Their Salesforces

I've said this before on this blog and I'll say it again. Traditional local media companies; radio stations, TV stations, local newspapers, and the like, are in a tough situation. Each of those businesses had a monopoly or near monopoly on their audiences a decade ago. Now none of them do.

The owners and operators of these businesses have been trained to think their strengths are local and relevant content, their monopolies or near monopolies on distribution (spectrum in the case of radio and TV), and their brands. All of these assets are waning quickly.

But there is one asset that is still quite significant and the value of it is growing, not shrinking. It is their large, well trained, and well connected salesforces.

I was reminded of this fact when I read Claire Cain Miller's piece on Curbed and the Village Voice today. Before I go on I should disclose that The Gotham Gal and I are small investors in Curbed and The Gotham Gal is what I like to call a "hands on investor" in the company.

As Claire explains in her piece:

The Village Voice …. has built this sales force over
five decades as a weekly newspaper. So it is acting as a local ad
network for Curbed, Mr. Steele said, selling local businesses ads for
its Web site as well as the Curbed blogs and then sharing revenue. In
return, it gets to offer Curbed’s articles and readers, in addition to
its own, to lure advertisers.

This story is playing out all around local media these days.

We have an investment in the leading online audio ad network, Targetspot. Targetspot has online audio advertising inventory from many of the largest radio station groups, as well as audio inventory from "pure play internet" services like AOL, Yahoo, Live365, Slacker, and several more that have not yet been announced. Advertisers don't buy the individual stations or services, they buy the network, either on a national, spot, or local basis.

When the network is "sliced" along a local dimension, like "all online audio listeners in New York City" that inventory is valuable to a local advertiser. And Targetspot's radio station partners who have salesforces in New York City can make good money selling the local network buy. And increasingly they are interested in doing just that.

But it doesn't stop at CPM buys like banners and audio ads. The same thing is happening in search and leads. Our portfolio company Clickable has a service called Platform that local media companies use to resell search and leads that come from search ads to their local advertisers.

This makes all the sense in the world. The media business, either on the national or local level, is losing its grip on audiences as they fragment and disperse all over the digital realm (including of course mobile). But they do not need to lose their grip on the relationships they have built up with local merchants since the days of Mad Men. What they need to do, and what they are increasingly doing, is reselling the inventory of others to their customers. As Claire points out in the NY Times piece on Curbed and The Village Voice, it is a win win for everyone, including the local merchants and their customers and potential customers.

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