Wetpaint Rolls Out New Platform to ‘Reinvent Publishing,’ Wetpaint Entertainment
Wetpaint has long been considered one of the Northwest’s top young tech startups. The Seattle-based company, founded in 2005, has raised $40 million from venture capitalists, including one who backed Facebook. Wetpaint has been heralded by Jude O’Reilley (then at online-health startup Trusera, now at Amazon) as “stars in the consumer wiki space,” and a “power to the people.” But the star of wiki is now building on that success in a new and fascinating way, aiming to become a star of online entertainment media.
Wetpaint’s scalable Web-publishing content platform boasts over 1.3 million user-built sites, and gets 10 million unique pageviews a month. The hope is that user base will give Wetpaint a running start with its latest venture, Wetpaint Entertainment, today, in which it is diving into the entertainment media space face-first. The idea, co-founder and chief executive Ben Elowitz says, is to turn the traditional publishing industry on its ear.
“Publishing is going through a massive transformation right now, and it really needs to find a new model—the audience has become so fragmented, so we really need to find a model,” he says. “Our goal is to revolutionize media by cracking the code on a profitable, scalable model for the publishing industry.”
At first glance, Wetpaint Entertainment sounds like a glorified network of TV fan sites—in the same vein as the sites driven by another Seattle-based startup, BuddyTV and the thousands of independent blogs and entertainment news sites. In fact, the creation is something very different. Wetpaint Entertainment’s 15 ‘channel’ sites, each dedicated to a different popular TV show, are the product of the intersection of multimedia videos and images, active social networks, and a team of professional editorial staff. It’s sort of a cross between social wiki technology, a Web-analytics company, and a magazine.
“We started with the social wiki by Wetpaint platform, and as we did that we realized that there was a big opportunity around entertainment,” Elowitz says.
The result, he says, are topical sites chock full of content specifically tailored for the reader—or user, rather. It’s supposed to maximize the resources of the web, and integrating new technologies, to create a more efficient, comprehensive, and more interactive and content-rich site at a fraction of the cost of other mainstream media outlets, like People magazine or US Weekly.
“If we were People magazine trying to do this, it would take hundreds of people,” Elowitz says. “We are able to publish content at about a fifth of the cost, because we’re using technology to be more efficient.”
Much of the technology he’s referring to stems from Wetpaint’s original Web-based tool for creating wikis that were both easy to use, and powered with social networking tools. By developing a publishing platform heavily mired in technology, Elowitz says his team of 35-full time staff (the company laid off 15 employees in July 2009) has found a more interactive, faster, customizable, and more advertiser-primed way of publishing.
“One of the themes that we’re attacking in entertainment, is there’s this bridge between Hollywood and the real life, and we’re able to cross that bridge,” he says. “Traditionally, top publishers have had a really high consumer experience, but at a really high cost, and that cost isn’t sustainable.”
Wetpaint Entertianment is launching today with 15 sites centered around TV shows that are popular with young women: “The Vampire Diaries,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Castle,” “Hellcats,” “Nikita,” “Glee,” “Dancing With The Stars,” “Top Chef,” “Pretty Little Liar,” “Bachelorette,” “The Bachelor,” “Gossip Girl,” “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of DC.” On each site there are as many as 200 updates daily on topics surrounding each fan base—show news, spoilers, gossip, fashion worn by the stars (an easy in for high-end advertisers, Elowitz notes), top 10 lists, music from the show, and pictures and video both aggregated from syndication partners—which he could not name—and created in-house.
“We have original video productions where we recap a week in TV, or take people off the street and re-enact scenes from episodes,” Elowitz says.” This is all really about completing that TV experience. The TV show is on the air for one hour a week, and we’re about completing the other 167 hours a week.”
Unlike many other fan sites, none of the content is directly user-generated. Rather, Wetpaint Entertainment’s in-house editorial staff and freelancers manage a combination of about 70 percent curated content and 30 percent original content. The platform does, however, use user data and feedback to direct and create original reporting for an targeted user experience.
“We’re really big believers in creating differentiated experiences,” he says. “There’s so much supply out there, that I think all content is now a commodity within 15 seconds of being published. What’s not a commodity, is experiences.”
Wetpaint Entertainment’s sites creates unique experiences, while cutting costs, by utilizing technology in a way no other publishing platform ever has, Elowitz says. The Wetpaint Entertainment system is designed to scour social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds to see what’s trending in breaking news, and where the users’ interests lie. It also evaluates content based on performance, which helps improve editorial decision making, tests user interests on topics, headlines, and story ideas, minimizing wasted editorial efforts, and evaluates the predictive return on investment of each piece, both curated and original, to ensure the sites are pulling in the content that’s most valued by readers, Elowitz says.
The technology, he says, gives Wetpaint Entertainment an advantage of “putting the audience first and using real time data and technology, rather than just guessing as to what’s going to be on peoples’ minds.”
That, he says, is what makes Wetpaint Entertainment unique. In fact, he doesn’t even consider the new venture to be in the same arena as other online fan sites. Elowitz thinks of Wetpaint Entertainment as competition for People magazine and Entertainment Weekly.
“There’s really a role for really profession, fan premium sites,” he says.
And so far, Elowitz says he is delighted by the results. The company has had the fan sites up for several weeks, under a different name, to test the network and social interaction. Before launch, the Glee site’s Facebook page already had 500,000 fans.
“That, by comparison, outranks Entertainment Weekly, TMZ, and People, combined,” Elowitz says. “We’ve got more interaction on Facebook already, before launch, than some of the biggest brands in the industry.”
The 15 sites rolled out today are only the first of many. “We’ll be growing that rapidly over the fall and spring seasons,” Elowitz says, adding that the company first plans to expand in the television market—adding new shows to go along with new seasons—before moving into new audience demographic categories.
“We’ll expand the range of demographics by developing new technologies that let us move to new categories from the next to the next,” he says.
As for the original Wikis by Wetpaint platform—Elowitz says it’s profitable and self-sustaining. Wetpaint Entertainment, however, is the new frontier.
“So far in publishing, technology has been applied to speed up and get more workflow out of the system,” Elowitz says. “But nobody’s ever said let’s take technology and reapply it now to reinvent publishing.”