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A version of this story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Buzzfeed may have reached 130 million monthly unique visitors with its mix of in-depth reporting and engaging GIF-filled listicles, but a plethora of other New York-based web outlets are using similar tactics and other innovative approaches to try to become the next new-media sensation. Here are five that are poised to become the next hot site:
Upworthy: Founded by former MoveOn staffers Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley, the site curates existing content about issues such as gay marriage, racial discrimination and bank regulation, then gives them head-scratching headlines (“Who Doesn’t Like to Watch Half-Naked Girls Dancing? These Guys. After They See Why It’s Happening”). Seems to work. As of September, more people were visiting Upworthy each month than were checking out the websites for People, Entertainment Weekly or TMZ (the site says it drew 90 million visitors in November). The site also recently announced its revenue strategy: an advertising program that will feature sponsored and promoted content.
NowThis News: Because reading 140-character tweets from CNN can be such a time suck, there’s NowThis News, a startup launched by Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth Lerer that keeps users up to date with smartphone-friendly videos that clock in at 30 seconds max. NowThis focuses on creating customized, short reports for Instagram, Vine and Snapchat to connect with an increasingly social audience. “People are now living in those social streams, and that’s how they’re getting and discovering content,” NowThis president Sean Mills tells The Hollywood Reporter. Demand for condensed news apparently is high: NowThis, which also co-produces clips with new partner NBCU News Group (that includes NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and other platforms), says its vids have seen a 50 percent bump in views, shares and likes since January. The company also creates videos for brands that are distributed across social platforms via its NowThis Studios division. “We are a real-time newsroom for brands,” Mills says. “So they come to us because … they like the idea that there’s an active newsroom that’s following trending conversations across all social platforms.”
First Look Media: EBay’s Pierre Omidyar spent $50 million on this journalism startup, pressing the Buy It Now button on Glenn Greenwald, the NSA-busting investigative reporter, and giving him his own just-launched news site, The Intercept. He also was the high bidder for Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi, who’ll get his own site, too. Ironically, the site hasn’t leaked any traffic numbers. But executive editor Eric Bates says Greenwald’s loyal following is evident. “I will say that Glenn brings with him a very large and deeply engaged audience, so the degree to which people interact with The Intercept through comments and through Twitter and Facebook and all of those traditional means is far beyond what you would expect from a startup the size of The Intercept,” Bates tells THR. The largely New York-based news organization plans to use various digital tools to help people apply and interact with its reporting.
PolicyMic: Three-year-old PolicyMic features clickable headlines atop stories that intelligently cover serious issues important to young people. Co-founder and CEO Christopher Altchek says this sophisticated, targeted focus distinguishes PolicyMic from its competitors. “We know that the majority of millennials went to college, and though they react better to an engaging, conversational voice, they also want issues explained to them in a straightforward and not-dumbed-down way,” Altchek tells THR. On the business side, PolicyMic has followed the Buzzfeed model, eschewing display ads in favor of sponsored content. “We’re focused on helping the best brands reach smart millennials in ways that actually add to our brand,” Altchek explains. “We know that millennials can ignore ads they want to ignore. … The key is creating really good content that people want to consume.”
Refinery29: A fashion and style site that’s actually making money from fashion and style? Yup, it’s true. From 2009 to 2012, Refinery29 increased revenue from $690,000 to nearly $17 million, and in 2013 nearly doubled revenues again, to $29 million, mostly through native advertising, sponsored content and other deals with brands. “Our business has really been using style as a way to connect brands in really, really meaningful ways with consumers,” co-founder Philippe von Borries tells THR. Refinery29 claims to be the largest independent fashion and style website in the U.S., pulling in more than 10 million visitors every month. “We know how to speak to the 18-to-35 consumer in ways traditional fashion and style publications have not,” von Borries says.
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