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Time Inc. begins rollout of ambitious mobile plan

NEW YORK -- Time Inc., the world's largest magazine publisher, sees mobile as part of a troika comprising social networking and video that will determine its digital media future.

Starting next week, the New York-based company will roll out a series of iPhone and WAP Web sites and iPhone applications for media properties such as Golf.com and CNNMoney.com, which is the joint portal for Fortune and Money magazines. Mobile will also be part of a test to gauge the appetite of consumers willing to pay for content.

"All of our major sites are rushing iPhone applications," said John Squires, executive vice president of Time Inc., at the Time Inc. Digital showcase yesterday. "Every one of our sites sees a huge increase in WAP products. It's a terrific market for us to be in."

That vote of confidence for mobile from one of the top executives at Time Inc. comes as publishers struggle to build up a profitable interactive media presence in the face of declining print revenues from advertising and subscription.

Mobile is a natural extension for Time Inc., a Time Warner Inc. subsidiary that publishes magazines such as Time, People, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated.

The company's wired Web sites for its Time, People and Entertainment Weekly brands already attract some of the highest audience numbers in terms of monthly unique visitors. That audience is now also consuming Time Inc. content on the iPhone, BlackBerry and other Web-friendly mobile devices.

Time Inc. claims 1 million monthly unique users to iPhone-optimized sites for Time.com, Life.com, CNNMoney.com, People.com and Golf.com. Crisp Wireless, New York, created the iPhone sites, including the popular Time.com version.

So it is no surprise that Time Inc. has ambitious plans for one of the easiest brands to tap for its mobile potential: Golf.com.

Golf.com, CNNMoney.com get mobile love
The Golf.com wired Web site was launched in April 2007. Last month the site attracted 1.1 million unique visitors -- a clear indication that the golfing audience was tech-savvy and not as clubby as is generally the impression.

"Only 10 percent of golfers come from private clubs," said Ken Fuchs, vice president and general manager of SI Digital.

In the next weeks, Time Inc. will launch three new mobile products for Golf.com.

The first is a WAP version of the site, going live next week. It will include breaking news, travel reviews, course finder and scores capabilities in addition to other features that lend themselves to content consumed on the go.

An iPhone version will debut thereafter, with even more slick features including Facebook connectivity, maps, weather and the ability to record stats for plays on golf courses.

Other features include a golf course finder from a database of 16,000 courses, and tabs called "My Game," "19th Hole" and "More from Golf.com," implying their functions.

The third product, planned for a mid-April debut, is a cross-platform play called Golf Life, which offers tools for golfers as well as social networking capability.

"It's meant to bring out the social aspect of the game to golfers," Mr. Fuchs said.

Mr. Fuchs' counterpart at CNNMoney.com has similar ambitious plans for his charge.

Jonathan Shar, general manager and senior vice president at CNNMoney.com, intends to debut new iPhone-optimized sites and iPhone and BlackBerry applications. His faith in the iPhone platform is unshaken.

"We've seen our iPhone-accessed audience double in the last six months," Mr. Shar said.

CNNMoney.com is one of the top destinations for financial news and stocks. Launched in November 2007, the wired CNNMoney.com site generated 17 million pages views last month. Average time spent on the wired site was 8 minutes, Mr. Shar claimed.

While he admitted that site traffic is hard to measure on mobile, Mr. Shar said that too will change in the next few months as Time Inc. uses new technology to deliver better measurement.

The CNNMoney mobile site is accessed at http://cnnmoney.mobi.

Mr. Shar didn't delve into too much detail, but he said one new application to launch was for iPhone users, offering business and financial content. The other app would launch just in time for the debut of the BlackBerry application store, planned for next week.

"It's all geared to getting content to folks quickly ? so they need to know what's happening in business and finance," Mr. Shar said.

Advertising support built in
Writing about business is one thing. But thinking like a business is another -- and this time, Time Inc. hopes to get it right with mobile.

Put simply, advertising is part of the equation right from the get-go.

For example, CNNMoney.com is selling standard banner ads on its mobile sites on a CPM basis. The brand is also offering sponsorship of sections as well as device and contextual targeting.

"We've got enough scale to make it work," Mr. Shar said.

Golf.com is equally prepared.

"All of our apps are launching with sponsorships, sight unseen," Mr. Fuchs said.

The goal is to develop a cohesive experience, he said, not limited to banners but also pre-roll ads on live video for advertisers in categories such as automotive and finance. Mobile ad network AdMob is helping Golf.com in this area.

Vodka brand Grey Goose has already signed up as an advertiser for Golf.com's mobile efforts.

Time Inc. is banking on the increasing population of smartphone users to introduce more sophisticated uses for content and marketing.

Tying in marketing with the smartphone's address book is one example.

"We're doing a lot of data collection," Mr. Fuchs said.

That would mean seeking information from site visitors or application users to ask about their favorite golf driver or course, among other data points that build a permission-based profile for relevant advertising offers and ads.

Paid content tests
But Time Inc. will not just monetize its mobile properties through advertising. Charging consumers for content is part of the plan. In essence, the publisher will revisit its paid content model that it abandoned five years ago.

Mr. Squires didn't offer more details, but he said Time Inc. will launch more paid applications for mobile even as it keeps the ad-supported, free model for other properties.

"I think you're going to see more tests from Time Inc. in the next six months," Mr. Squires said.

"For us to be able to continue to publish, we'll need more money from the consumer since the advertising environment is so difficult," he said.

The print medium's hemlockian demise is forcing powerhouse publishers such as Time Inc. to reevaluate their content delivery mechanisms and advertising models.

While magazines are still one step removed from the fate of newspapers -- rapidly declining circulation from online cannibalization, loss of classified revenues, automotive and retail advertising ad budgets slashed to ribbons, printing and paper costs up -- they see the tidal wave.

"You're seeing quality journalism shut down," Mr. Squires said.

Mobile will be the first test for paid content not because it is a new media channel, but due to the fact that a mobile payment platform is already developed, Mr. Squires said.

The first test will be on the iPhone platform.

Vertical strategy for online
Interestingly, while Time Inc. is focusing heavily on mobile this year, it is also developing a new strategy for its key online properties.

The Time.com homepage, also called "The Page," is becoming a portal of Time-generated news as well as content aggregated from other media sources.

The idea is to use Time.com as a gateway for content. But it sets the site up against the two leading content aggregators online -- Yahoo and Google.

What Time.com will have to avoid is becoming just another generic content venue. It does not help that online CPMs continue to fall, although Mr. Squires claims that Time Inc.'s rates are holding steady. But even he sees the issue as others do.

"There's more inventory than the market can absorb," Mr. Squires said.

On another level, it almost seems as if Time Inc. is returning to the idea of its original portal -- Pathfinder. That site was pushed heavily in the mid-1990s, but perhaps was ahead of its time.

Now, the Time Inc. online strategy is to develop vertical online portals around such brands as Time and Entertainment Weekly.

The company is not worried about readers linking off, but more attracted by them returning to the homepages each day to begin their general news or entertainment media consumption.

"In the end, you're competing for your customer's attention," Mr. Squires said.