Editor’s note: This is one of 11 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Programmatic Advertising Opportunities for Publishers,” released in September.

While the New York Times Co. began experimenting heavily with programmatic advertising in 2013, larger forces in the digital advertising marketplace are shaping the company’s efforts, company officials say. 

“We believe the market is bifurcating in two directions: one towards premium, and the rest towards what used to be standard rotational banner media,” says Michael Zimbalist, senior vice president of advertising products and research and development. “So we’re leaning heavily into both spaces.” 

Although The New York Times’ push toward premium native advertising has been highly publicised, Zimbalist says that the company’s programmatic efforts are focused more closely on one of the two distinct elements of programmatic sales: the automated fulfillment of direct advertising buys. 

Zimbalist says the company is primarily focusing on programmatic as an opportunity to “reduce touch points and friction” with advertisers involved in broader campaigns. Says Zimbalist: “That’s ultimately a machine-to-machine opportunity … that should report up through the operations and computer science people. For a good advertiser, if they want to fulfill machine-to-machine, we want to set that up.”

To date, The New York Times has been more cautious about aggressively pursuing programmatic advertising sales in the open marketplace, although the company has recently signaled a willingness to increase its overall programmatic activities.

Zimbalist touts the benefits of premium programmatic options that directly connect advertisers with specific publisher inventory. He also believes publishers will shake off the assumption — and fear — that advertisers will gravitate towards programmatic real-time bidding as a tool for all advertising campaigns.

“Advertisers are much more sophisticated about the role of traded media in real time,” he says. “Not all advertising will go off into one-time bidding — there are some very specific use cases.”

Among those are acquisition campaigns based on short-term needs of consumers that include tight timeframes — the “I need something out there right now” campaigns, according to Zimbalist. “It won’t be advertisers piecing together big impactful campaigns one buy at a time.”

That’s why the Times’ digital sales team, although trained to understand the company’s programmatic capabilities, remains focused on “the large premium cross-platform buys that only The New York Times can deliver,” Zimbalist says. Yet executives are also looking at the potential of programmatic models to attract new advertising customers.

“Lean into it,” Zimbalist advises. “It’s where the market is headed.”