TMZ star of celebrity news sites

Relative newcomer dominates in rapidly growing category

NEW YORK -- In little more than a year after its launch, AOL's celebrity news site has become the most popular in the category -- according to Nielsen//NetRatings -- passing portals from more established institutions as the audience continues to grow.

Launched in December 2005, TMZ had 7.9 million unique visitors in February, up 151% year-over-year. was second with 4.3 million uniques, up 93% from the same period a year ago. E! Online, and Entertainment Weekly's portal rounded out the top five. Overall, the top 19 sites in the category saw 18.8 million visitors in February, up 40% from a year ago.

"People have realized that the Internet brings something real to the party," TMZ GM Alan Citron said. "And that is real-time coverage. It has changed the rhythm of reporting, and because of that, the rhythm of readership has changed."

Citron added that the site also is helped by the fact that it does not need to protect a broadcast or print brand. So when TMZ gets an exclusive -- such as Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rant last year or Michael Richards' racist outburst at the Laugh Factory in November -- there are no questions about where it goes. Having access to AOL's huge subscriber base benefits TMZ's traffic as well.

Citron is quick to credit the site's editorial staff, led by managing editor Harvey Levin. "Harvey Levin and his team are just tenacious reporters," Citron said., a blog launched in 2005 by Mario Lavandeira, also has seen huge growth in the past year. In February, the site had 2.4 million unique visitors, compared with February 2006, when it fell below Nielsen's reporting cutoff of 330,000 uniques.

All chart data provided by Nielsen//NetRatings Netview. Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.