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I’m not even sure “native advertising” is the right term, exactly; sponsored content works too. But whatever you call it, The New York Times just released an update to its New York City things-to-do app The Scoop that includes a new feature: real-time information on the location and capacity of nearby Citi Bike stations. That’s the new NYC bike-sharing system that debuted yesterday.

nytimes-scoop-citi-bikeBut instead of this being an editorial product — like the rest of The Scoop’s listings of restaurants, coffee shops, and the like — the bike-finding map carries a “Sponsored” label. It’s advertising content provided by Citi Bike. Says the Times press release: “This marks the first time The New York Times will feature content from an advertiser in a mobile application outside of an advertising unit.”

If most native advertising tries to make sponsor-provided content look a bit like a news article, this tries to make it look a bit like a regular ol’ tab in a mobile app. What’s interesting is that the “content” here is less a collection of words and pictures than a real-time data service. It’s a callback to the classic news advertising idea — we assemble the audience, you provide the content, we make a match — in a mobile, apped-up world. It’s a compelling match.

“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,” said Denise Warren, executive vice president, Digital Products and Services Group, The New York Times. “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.”

(And it’s a match that can go both ways: The Times says that Citi Bike’s own iOS and Android apps will be updated this summer to feature…The Scoop’s listings of restaurants, coffee shops, and the like.)

I’m not sure how far idea could go — most newspapers are tied to a local audience; most digital outlets that might consider this sort of a deal aren’t. But it’s interesting that the Times, one of America’s least local newspapers, is leading the way in figuring out a way to connect location and ad dollars in this way.

A few updates on this:

— Credit-where-credit-is-due update: Mobile developer Conmio was involved in the update.

— As was ex-Nieman Labber Andrew Phelps, who now works on the Times’ mobile apps team:

And the update also includes an HTML web app (for Android and everybody else):

— It’s also of note that it would have been entirely possible for the Times’ to add this tab without Citi Bike being an advertiser. The bike-sharing program publishes a real-time JSON feed of the bikes and slots available at each station. The Times could have mashed this up without too much difficulty on its own (as I’m sure lots of app developers will be doing in the coming weeks). That the editorial case for having this tab anyway is so strong makes it stand out even more as sponsored content.

— Joshua Benton
                                   
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