Net effect: Head of the social network class

Classmates has a profitable niche in youth-heavy category

NEW YORK -- Although News Corp.'s MySpace, Google Inc.'s YouTube and Blogger properties and Facebook might hog most of the social networking headlines, Classmates Online, which launched in 1995, continues to quietly carve out its niche among a more mature audience.

"I do wish that Classmates got more publicity than it did," said Mark Goldston, founder, chairman and CEO of the site's parent company, United Online Inc. "A lot of the focus of the press has been on the kids' market."

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the more youth-oriented MySpace and Facebook have seen 66% and 110% unique visitors growth, respectively, during the past year. YouTube has seen 366% growth, and for the week ending March 25, the site saw an 11.1% increase compared with the previous week.

Classmates -- the fourth-most-popular networking site in February ahead of Facebook -- targets a different audience.

Among their more than 40 million subscribers, 77% are older than age 34, with nearly half aged 35-55. With a focus on reconnecting with long-lost classmates, the site's premise might not be as sexy as that of other portals, but Goldston said that his site, which charges its subscribers, has been profitable since 2001.

Classmates also has made forays into television, launching "Classmates" with Fox in 2003. The show documented reunions facilitated through the site and ran for 95 episodes. With plans to expand the portal and launch a dating service in the future, Goldston also sees other TV opportunities. "If you have 40 million people as a basic starting point, it's pretty compelling," he said.

Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

All chart data provided by Nielsen//NetRatings NetView