Kardashian Apps Lure a Million Subscriptions in a Week — But Can It Last?

Kardashian AP - H 2015
Courtesy of Whalerock Industries

The E! stars try to sustain a paying audience (with help from Lloyd Braun) as they become a test case for niche digital plays.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Early in the morning of Sept. 14, the Kardashian sisters launched a suite of subscription-based lifestyle apps. By that afternoon, all four apps — one each for Kim Kardashian West, Khloe Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner (Kourtney Kardashian's will launch later this year) — shot to the top of Apple's App Store charts, led by Kylie's, the most downloaded free app in the U.S. for two straight days.

The Kardashian sisters' ability to attract an audience has been well documented. But digital media observers are closely watching the performance of the E! stars' apps as the landscape shifts away from ad-supported services to stand-alone subscription offerings. "We've been living in a world where there's been one pure-play big bun­dle, and now we're going to find out over the next several years how big the marketplace is for niche subscriptions," says BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. "In the mobile world, there's a way for content creators to have a direct connection with fans without the gatekeepers that have historically gotten in the way."

Kylie Jenner

Former ABC chairman Lloyd Braun is behind the Kardashians' mobile push through his Whalerock Industries TV production and digital media company. Whalerock has plans to create as many as a dozen of these apps over the next year, including one with Howard Stern.

The Kardashian apps are free to download but each charge $3 a month to subscribe to exclusive content: Kylie, 18, has a curated radio station; Kim, 34, offers makeup tutorials; and Khloe, 31, hosts an organizing series called Khlo-C-D. Accompanying websites tease some free content with the promise of more with a credit card number. "Our north star is that the fans have to feel like they're getting three or four times the value of what they're paying," says Whalerock president Jeff Berman of the strategy.

Berman isn't commenting on the apps' early performance, but a security breach two days after launch revealed that more than 600,000 people had signed up for Kylie's channel in that period. (The breach was patched quickly.) The apps collectively attracted more than 1 million subscrib­ers during their first week, sources confirm to THR.

The challenge for Whalerock will be maintaining a steady stream of new subscribers. Two weeks after launch, Kylie's app had fallen out of the top 100 on the App Store's list of most downloaded free apps. But Whalerock head of digital Jared Heinke says the early performance already has exceeded the company's expectations. He adds: "We're going to earn every subscription — in the first week, the first month, the first year."