DENVER - MediaNews Group, which plans to roll out its I-News "individuated newspaper" concept to subscribers in Los Angeles this summer, has already begun quietly distributing customized news content to hotel guests through a trial with Marriott Hotels.

Peter Vandevanter, MNG's vice president of targeted products, told News & Tech that the publisher has been delivering a personalized news product to guests staying at the Residence Inn in downtown Denver since April 2.

The product, produced on 8.5-by-11-inch paper on a desktop printer, is delivered to guests by 6 a.m. for the duration of their stay, Vandevanter said.

"We rolled it out to 11 people initially, and we will continue to expand the service," he said.

Hotel guests receive their customized news products by 6 a.m. daily for the length of their stay.

Since the average stay at the Residence Inn is two weeks, MNG and Marriott identified the property as a good venue to evaluate I-News.

Upon arrival, guests are asked two questions: Where are you from, and do you want to receive a summary of local Denver news?

Guests that say no to the second question do not receive I-News while those interested in Denver news receive a mixture of news from their hometown newspaper and local Denver news.

The product also includes advertisements from adjacent businesses, with offers for freebies like a complimentary glass of wine or shoeshine.

Responses have been overwhelmingly positive, according to surveys conducted by MNG.

"Some guests said they like it better than The Denver Post, and many liked it better than USA Today," Vandevanter said. "It's the news of the day even though the format is different. It's not broadsheet - but for the first 100 years in this industry neither were newspapers."

A woman polled for feedback at Residence Inn said she enjoyed I-News because it was informative and easy to skim.

"I picked San Diego as my city since I used to live in San Diego," she said. "To get that mix of news ... it was very enjoyable. Exactly what I asked for is what I got."

Another guest polled on I-News said he would be willing to pay near what he pays for delivery of his traditional newspaper for the product.

Proven ad value

With the test in Denver and the upcoming rollout in California, Vandevanter said MNG is busy proving the advertising value of I-News, which he estimates could yield a target of profitability of $200 CPM.

Vandevanter credits the value of advertising to the fact that I-News scales so well.

"It's been well received because we are getting 10 times the ad value that these advertisers can get in the print edition of the daily newspaper," he said. "And these ads are magazine quality."

The I-News rollout in Denver comes just as Marriott announced it would stop providing USA Today to guest rooms, effective June 1, citing a 25 percent drop in demand and a desire to reduce waste (see N&T Dateline, April 13, 2009).

Free newspapers

Instead, Marriott began offering free newspapers in its lobbies on April 20, as well as newspapers based on customer preference. Guests have the choice of receiving USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the local paper, or no paper at all.

"This new program is more guest-focused," Chairman and CEO J.W. Marriott Jr. said in a statement in April.

Meantime, MNG began testing I-News with home subscribers in a Northwest Denver neighborhood, months ahead of the official rollout of the service to subscribers of the (Los Angeles) Daily News, scheduled for August (see News & Tech, March 2009).

In L.A., subscribers will be able to access the Daily News online as an e-edition or upgrade to receive a printed product via a smart, wireless desktop printer installed in their homes, Vandevanter said.

Daily News readers will select news based on their interests, which will be combined with news from an undisclosed wire service, Daily News content and targeted advertising, Vandevanter said.

"For testing in Denver, we are taking news from the late edition of The Denver Post, scraping the headlines and paginating those articles in the same order of hierarchy as they appear in the printed newspaper," Vandevanter explained. "The next step takes content based on reader preference from the [wire service] server."

That process, Vandevanter said, is based on coding developed in-house by MNG IT staff in Denver.

"It's basically RSS to PDF technology," he said.

News for the hotel editions of I-News is aggregated in the same way.