The Wisdom Behind and The Globe and Mail

While regulators are busy setting up legislative parameters for Artificial Intelligence, the online ad industry continues to innovate using AI to enhance reach and address the right audiences. National publisher and IAB Canada member The Globe and Mail, has made great strides with the introduction of their proprietary tool “” whose primary function is to curate content and get the right message in front of the right person. 

In preparation for our Report on Data event next month, we sat down with Sonali Verma, Director of Business Development,, to find out more about this game-changing technology. 

IAB Canada (IABC): How has AI changed the way that The Globe and Mail does business?  

Sonali Verma (SV): The media industry has grappled with shrinking resources over the past decade and newspapers have faced a choice: Innovate to find new ways to fund journalism — or risk oblivion.   

As Canada’s leading news media company, we decided to invest aggressively in innovation and data science starting in 2012. About 10% of today’s workforce are data scientists and engineers. The Globe and Mail hired top leaders in the space to develop – an AI and Machine Learning platform for automation, optimization and prediction.

Sophi is made up of three components:  

  1. Sophi Site Automation: An AI system that autonomously curates digital content to find and promote a publisher’s most valuable articles. Sophi looks at all the content as it is published, and at all the traffic, to find the hidden gems that customers value most. It looks beyond pageviews and what content is popular, instead finding the most valuable content – the pieces that drive business goals, such as acquisition and retention.   

    While The Globe’s editors were concerned that letting an algorithm place digital content could diminish the 175-year-old brand, they decided to train Sophi to understand what was appropriate. Receiving a snapshot of algorithmic curation every 10 minutes, they could see that Sophi was working well and today Sophi automates 99% of The Globe’s digital content.  
  1. Sophi Dynamic Paywall: This fully dynamic, real-time, personalized paywall engine analyzes both content and user behaviour to determine when to ask a reader for subscription payment or an email address, and when to leave them alone. This is the only paywall engine on the market that uses true one-to-one personalization to understand what a reader truly values before asking for either an email address or a credit card number. 

    As a result, not only did The Globe see a 222% increase in registrations, it also saw a 53% increase in reader loyalty and 51% increase in subscription conversions.  
  1. Sophi Content Paywall: Using complex natural language processing routines to analyze every piece of content and select articles to put behind a paywall, this technology predicts the value of every piece of content upon publication. The system paywalls only those articles where the subscription revenue opportunity is many times greater than the advertising revenue forgone.  

These predictive models are focused on maximizing yield and driving the highest revenue. 

The implementation has resulted in 10x more subscription revenue than the advertising revenue given up by hard paywalling The Globe’s articles and has brought in several million dollars incrementally — without changing how its journalists do their jobs.  

IABC: Do you foresee Sophi as a separate line of business? And what does that look like? 

SV: Definitely. We realized that we were solving real problems that exist across the media industry. Problems we knew intimately because we are in the news business (these were our own problems) – and so, we also knew that no other tool out there solves them in quite the same way. 

In the last month, Sophi has been spun off from The Globe and is now its own legal entity, Sophi Inc. The team continues to work with news publishers across four continents. 

IABC: Looking forward, how might Sophi evolve in the coming years? What kind of role will it play when it comes to the new forms of addressing audiences? 

SV: Sophi’s mandate is to solve the worst problems in the publishing business including the two most popular: 

  1. How does one gather first party data with as little friction as possible?
  2. How can we consistently deliver a personalized experience to customers so that they are more engaged with our content? 

We have discovered that the decision-making engine that powers our fully dynamic paywall can also be used extremely effectively to discern which reader should be asked for which piece of first party data.  

In this way, it circumvents the traditional process of progressive disclosure. It could, instead, ask one user for an email address the very first time they come to a site, ask another simply for their gender, and it may not ask their neighbour for anything at all. It is true one-to-one personalization, based on both the user and the content that they are reaching for. 

Sophi is extraordinarily good at figuring out which website user will give us which piece of data – and, if it makes a mistake, it quickly learns from that and won’t repeat it. Sophi will not bug anyone unnecessarily – which means readers get a better user experience, leading to higher on-site engagement and more return visits and loyalty. 

This has a material impact on revenue as it flows into higher eCPMs for advertising and into more subscriptions. The Globe has been able to convert registered users at 9x the rate of anonymous users.  

Over the coming months, IAB Canada will continue to explore the powerful use cases of AI in our sector while we prepare for new Canadian regulations. We have an active AI working group. Let us know if you would like to join the conversation by reaching out to