The New York Times has finally entered the world of sponsored content, integrating a Citi Bike section into its mobile listings app The Scoop. The app, which works like Yelp but with Times reviews and editors’ picks of restaurants, shows and events instead of crowdsourced ones, is officially sponsored by Citi. Starting today, the app will also let users locate nearby Citi Bike stations, find out how many bikes are available and get biking directions to restaurants and events.
But of course, the paper isn’t adding a Citi Bike section just because Times editors and critics believe that the new bike share program is an essential tool for New Yorkers. Citi, as the app’s official sponsor, already has banner ads, but this marks the paper’s first foray into sponsored content.
“This is just one example of how we are working more closely with our advertisers to create unique and custom campaigns to help them tell their brand story in innovative ways,” Denise Warren, executive vice president of Digital Products and Services Group, wrote in an announcement. “The integration of Citi Bike’s robust content complements The Scoop app’s main objective—to serve as a guide to New York City. With these new features we hope to further enhance the experience for users of The Scoop as they explore the city using their iPhone.”
The new addition, while useful, is not just a way to enhance the user experience. It’s a way to monetize. A small “SPONSORED” notice appears underneath the Citi Bike icon on the app’s main menu, the only clue that the content doesn’t come from the Times. But unlike other publications’ misadventures with sponsored content—remember when The Atlantic shilled for Scientology?—the Citi Bike section seems like a genuinely useful addition to the Scoop app.
And hey, if you are going to add some sponsored content, this seems relatively benign–especially since it is confined to an app.