Wanderful Bets on Mobile ‘Cash Dash’

Wanderful Media, the newspaper-owned promotions company, has expanded on its original Find&Save coupon portal, which now includes 500 national and regional merchants, and 18,000 brands. The new expansion efforts are focused on Cash Dash, a geolocation promotions feature found within the Find&Save Apps, and Coffee Table, an iPad-oriented retailer catalog that it acquired at the end of 2014.

The big bet is on expanding Cash Dash, which puts Wanderful’s network – which not only includes Wanderful’s newspaper owners, but also key Yellow Pages and others — into the world of incentive promotions. The original version sent promotions to shoppers while they are at retail stores and presumably, in a shopping context. A typical offer might be “Spend $15 at Walgreens, get $5 back from Find&Save.”

These aren’t real time, card-linked offers, which would provide real time feedback; more comprehensive buying information; and ties with financial institutions. In the interest of simplicity, no credit card is used. Instead, consumers snap a picture of their receipt to validate (and track) their spending on a personalized basis. The new improved version adds additional capabilities designed to add shopper frequency and spending, including a “Cash Cart” that lets shoppers select items from a weekly circular ad to create their own cash back offers.

All of the efforts require consumers to get comfortable taking photos of their receipts, and to remember to do so — something that Wanderful execs say has not been an issue.

Speaking about Cash Dash at BIA/Kelsey’s NATIONAL event in March, Dallas Morning News SVP of Business Development and Niche Products Grant Moise noted that major retailers wanted a one stop mobile promotions solution. “It has driven up to $100,000 in sales for some advertisers,” he said at that time.

HomeAdvisor Is Rolling Out ‘Instant Booking’ Nationally

HomeAdvisor, formerly known as ServiceMagic, is set to roll out its Instant Booking service in July on a national basis. The Instant Booking service, which is now live in 20 cities, represents a different business model for the company, which previously only provided leads from its network of paid professionals.

The rollout of Instant Booking is one clear example of how traditional service leads and directory providers such as Home Advisor, Angie’s List and Thumbtack hope to respond to increasingly intense competition from the likes of Amazon, Google (evidently), Pro.com, Serviz and others.

Speaking at BIA/Kelsey’s NOW conference June 12 in San Francisco, VP of Product Development Paul Zeckser said that Instant Booking has won real champions for “lower consideration” jobs that don’t require a lot of strategy and planning. Homeowners using the services are 2x more satisfied. Moreover, eight of 10 appointments become closed jobs. By August, more than $100 million of booked appointments will occur via Home Advisor Marketplace, he said.

Internal research, however, suggests that the vast majority of consumers will probably stick to the company’s traditional leads model. Instant Booking will help win the business of the 16 percent that don’t want to talk to someone first, said Zeckser. Some portion of the other 84 percent may also want to ultimately use Instant Booking, but “they want to talk to a professional before they hire them.”

Zeckser also noted that most of the professionals who respond to Instant Booking will be those that have migrated from a manual calendar or a white board to an electronic calendar, such as Google Calendar. Roughly 60 percent of Home Advisor’s service pros now use electronic calendars, up from 50 percent a year ago.

BIA/Kelsey NOW: The Impact of The Local On Demand Economy

BIA/Kelsey’s NOW conference today in San Francisco highlighted the Uberification of the local space and its impact, pro and con, on traditional marketing channels, especially advertising.

“It is about evolving markets,” said event head Mitch Ratcliffe. Some people grossly simplify what is happening as if there will just be “an uber for this, an uber for that. but there are different services and niches for each vertical,” he said. It is not about preserving “monocultures.”

“Uber is just one possible solution for transportation,” for instance, said Ratcliffe. “The Local On Demand Economy is the first great tool for monetizing (an employment) exchange. And it acknowledges that the 90 year-old idea of a job for life is probably beginning to end.” And that’s not necessarily new, either. “Benjamin Franklin didn’t have a job,” notes Ratcliffe. He did have a portfolio of interests.

Keynoter Joanna Lord, Porch VP of Business Development, noted that “the funnel is so different now. The search and find models that drove Google’s emergence is now ‘get it,’” she said. And consumers are willing to pay a premium for convenience and excellence. “Fifty five percent would pay more for a better experience.”

LODE companies are also extending the notion of loyalty beyond the four pillars of “no loyalty,” “inertia loyalty,” “latent loyalty” and “premium loyalty,” she said. “There is now a 5th type of loyalty: Reciprocal loyalty.” Lord defines this as a“premium relationship befitting both the consumer and the brand.”

18748670311_eb0ed0e028_z

Goodbye Pennysaver: Is There Life Left in Shopper Publications?

Is there life left in local, broadsheet “shopper” publications that highlight home and trade businesses and things for sale? Not according to OpenGate, a $3 Billion LBO firm that abruptly laid off workers for Pennysaver USA, the industry’s largest company, which it purchased in 2013 from Harte Hanks for $22.5 Million. At that time, the company had annual revenues of nearly $200 million and had 800 employees in California.

Other shoppers remain in business, such as American Classifieds (Thrifty Nickel) and many locally or regionally-owned Pennysavers. The name “Pennysaver” goes back to the 18th Century, and is not exclusive.

Our guess is that OpenGate didn’t see a clear path to profitability and decided to simply pull the plug (apparently, without paying final wages.) Core advertisers and consumers have many alternative options on Craigslist and other sources, and OpenGate didn’t seem to have a plan that would have upgraded Pennysaver to a hyperlocal, searchable and mobile-oriented model. That’s where things need to go.

We look across the aisle, for instance, to Cox Target Media’s Valpak, a coupons and advertising business. It has thrived on a hyperlocal publishing strategy, and has developed a robust digital strategy. Valpak has just announced a great Apple Watch app. But PennySaver wasn’t going there.

Theoretically, we still find Shoppers an appealing alternative sales channel. They are generally 100 percent commission, and many products could theoretically be added to their bundle (Google, et al). WebVisible, at one time, teamed up with American Classifieds to pursue such a model. PennySaver, itself, teamed up with Antengo, a mobile classifieds service. But that was discontinued when OpenGate came on board.

AOL’s Sale to Verizon: All Eyes on Mobile and Video

Verizon’s announcement today that it will buy AOL for $4.4 billion is a bid to get beyond dumb pipes and airwaves to get deeply into mobile and video. By doing so, Verizon, a $200 Billion company,  hopes to play on more of a level playing field with other major telecom players combining access to content and personalization services, especially Comcast (with NBC U) and  AT&T (with Direct TV.)

The all-cash deal provides a 150 percent return for shareholders in AOL from when CEO Tim Armstrong came on board in 2009. The price is 17 percent above the current stock price. And at the lower price – which may ultimately be even lower if some of the content properties are sold – a lot less is riding on it.

Have you seen this movie before in 2000, when AOL was disastrously sold to Time Warner for $165 Billion?  A lot of the same synergies are being discussed:  video on demand, personalized content and subscription revenue.

But this time, it is really all about mobile; video on mobile; and the prospect of converting (or selling) 2.1 million dialup subscribers that continue to be AOL’s biggest moneymaker. Indeed,  AOL has built or bought a powerful arsenal of mobile ad serving and video tech, especially LTE Multicast, which uses its cellular network to broadcast live video.

In our view, content is not likely to be an important factor here.  It would have been more important if AOL had merged with Yahoo, or with Microsoft.  The biggest “what if” probably involves MapQuest, which has technically lagged behind mapping leaders but retains a powerful, verb-like brand in that space.  Given Uber’s $3 Billion bid to buy Nokia’s HERE, it may ultimately emerge as an important factor in the deal – much more so than Huffington Post.  AOL’s sizable effort to make Huffington Post into a super content portal, including a major local dimension, failed dramatically last year. Similarly, Armstrong’s huge, multi-hundred million dollar effort with hyperlocal site Patch amounted to very little.

To some degree, we also see Verizon’s acquisition of AOL as an acqui-hire. Verizon has  stumbled around advertising for several years but not had an impact. It also has made some small investments in content and classified properties, but hasn’t been confident enough to really spend. Its biggest effort was a promotional program with the NFL to broadcast games for free.

We like the statement issued in the name of Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who we note, has long had his eye on geotargeted advertising. “Verizon’s vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multi-screen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

Uber’s $3 Billion Bid for Nokia’s HERE: Too Much, Too Soon

As my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe points out, Uber is apparently bidding $3 billion to buy Nokia’s HERE mapping service (which was formerly NAVTEQ.) It is a huge bid that comes out of left field. But does it make sense?

A case could be made for it. Uber seems especially eager to juice its valuation before the IPO. It wants to reposition itself as an ecommerce leaders and move away from its current reality as a collection of freelance drivers. Moreover, the number of mapping competitors that it could partner with is definitely shrinking. It comes down to Google, Microsoft and perhaps, MapQuest.

If successful, Uber would control a highly customizizable mapping service that would provide shortcuts and accuracy for its deliveries of people and it hopes, commerce. HERE’s international orientation is appealing for Uber, which is a true worldwide play.

Owning HERE would especially be helpful in the next age of driver-less, autonomous vehicles (AVs), which would be highly dependent on accurate, strategically efficient information. Deep mapping is also an area that Google and Microsoft have ID’d as their competitive advantage. Watching Yelp keep its advantage against Google while depending on its search engine is enough proof to realize that depending on Google as a common carrier isn’t an ideal strategy.

But this age of AVs isn’t likely to occur for 10 years or longer. And only small items like toothbrushes and shaving cream are being delivered by existing Uber drivers. While it has aspirations and vision aplenty, it isn’t yet an ecommerce company. When/if it becomes one, a whole new set of competitors come into play (Fedex, UPS, USPS, Amazon, WalMart , Safeway).

We applaud the vision, and don’t count Uber out at all. The competitors listed above could as easily become major partners. In fact, this could be the biggest play of all. But the idea that Uber should spend $3 billion — which would only be a down payment on the high maintenance mapping industry — seems like it is too much, too soon. Google is likely to be a perfectly good and safe partner for a number of years.

UT San Diego Sale: Online Isn’t Adding Value to Traditional Media Sale Prices

Today’s announcement that UT San Diego and its eight regional publications will be acquired by Tribune Publishing’s Los Angeles Times for a slightly better-than-fire sale price of $85 million (plus $100 million in pension liabilities) points to several things.

1. The price is probably a flat fee for the brand and expectations of selling regional advertising throughout southern California.
2. Individual components such as subscriber counts include a certain number of online subscribers. But there aren’t many online-only subs in this case.
3. UT San Diego’s various online and mobile services really aren’t factored in.

The U-T reported Sunday circulation of 271,564 for 1Q, 2015. On other days, circulation ranged between 169,484-222,479. The LA Times reported Sunday circulation of 965,598 and average weekday circulation of 650,718 for the six months that ended Sept. 30.

The LA Times will be able to save some costs with the acquisition by cutting circulation, printing, sales and perhaps, content costs. It will also more effectively sell regional accounts to large advertisers, specifically retailers, auto makers and auto dealers and medical. But in the end, online (or mobile) won’t be much of a factor.

That’s a shame. Back in 2002-2004, a former colleague of mine developed a general hypothesis that if a traditional media property could show recurring value in online properties, it would be able to boost its sale price by X percent – probably 20 percent or more. It was a major reason to double down on digital growth. But this clearly hasn’t happened.

I was chatting about this with BIA/Kelsey Chief Economist Mark Fratrik. He notes that online revenues accounted for 16.4 percent of newspaper revenue in 2014, and will be 17.9 percent in 2015. The forecast is for online revenues to grow slightly to 22.9 percent by 2019. This reflects some additional online revenue, but as he points out, it also reflects BIA/Kelsey’s expectations that print revenues will decline.

It is true that online could add value to traditional value property in some cases, says Fratrik. But San Diego is full of online competition from TV station sites, alternative sites and news start-ups.

The Times of San Diego, for instance, now reaches 150,000 unique users a month. Publisher Chris Jennewein – a former leader of UT San Diego’s digital operations – notes that 26 percent of his readers are aged 25-34 and seventy-five percent are under 55. “Our readers probably didn’t read either of the two newspapers to begin with,” he told me this morning via email.

For me, it is a sad situation. I lived in San Diego for 11 years, and occasionally did consulting projects for the newspaper. UT San Diego always had innovative online projects going on, and several strong leaders at the digital helm. It got deeply involved in email marketing services, online directories, Spanish language media, hyperlocal editions, premium iPad editions, video services, mobile headlines, entertainment publications, prepaid deals and loyalty services. But in the end, none of it seemed to matter very much.