Magazines’ Digital Strategies Start Making a Dent

By Steve Smith

Bad as 2009 may be both for print and online media properties, some magazine brands, several magazine categories and brands positioned themselves well in 2008, according to full-year data from comScore. Glam Media, which partners with many branded service books, Everyday Health (owned by Waterfront Media) and Hearst Digital Media were among the top 20 traffic gainers last year. Hearst properties expanded their audience 42% year-over-year on organic growth, while Everyday Health (121%) and Glam (144%) combined organic growth with acquiaitions.

Top Gaining U.S. Properties, 2008
Property % Gain
Break Media* 279%
Glam Media* 144%
Infospace Networks 134%
Netshelter Technology* 131%
Everyday Health* 121%
CBS Corporation* 111%
WildTangent Network* 74%
Discovery Digital Media* 68%
WordPress 64%
Demand Media* 59%
Weatherbug 59% Sites 58% 57%
Yellow Book Network* 51%
Ask Network* 48%
AT&T Interactive Network* 47%
JPMorgan Chase* 45%
Hearst Digital Network 42%
Mozilla Organization 40%
Sprint Nextel 36%
*Considerable growth due in part to acquisitions and agreement
** Rankings based on top 100 properties
Source: comScore Media Metrix

The list of top gainers reflects several trends that are continuing into 2009. First, the growth of women’s and family service content was justified by consumer interest. Women’s content in 2007 was already attracting about 70 million monthly uniques, but by the end of 2008 it drew about over 100 million, an increase of 46%. Likewise, family-oriented content expanded its audience 29%.

Clear winners of 2008 included the emerging generation of vertical media and ad networks like Glam and NetShelter. Glam knits together literally hundreds of blog and small sites for a massive network that vaulted into the ninth position last year among comScore’s top U.S. properties. NetShelter has a stable of 150 sites in the tech sector that add up to a reach that exceeds established brands like CNET. Except for a handful of top gaining properties in 2008 (Hearst among them), the companies that acquired, aggregated and partnered up for traffic sharing enjoyed the greatest gains. As media audiences continue to fragment online, clearly media companies need to base their growth strategies in re-aggregation through smarter partnerships and acquisitions.

The digital video investments that strained budgets and returned little revenue for many publishers in 2006 and 2007 may pay off as Web users make video viewing habitual. ComScore reports that key metrics of video consumption escalated substantially in 2008. The number of videos viewed per person went from 68.6 in 2007 to 86.8 in 2008, while average minutes spent per video grew from 2.8 to 3.1. Long-form video viewing became commonplace as prime time TV episodes poured online at major network sites and successful NBC/News Corp. joint venture Hulu. In fact, Hulu had an average video viewing time of over 12 minutes in November, multiples higher than any other leading video destination.

Arguably, some of the key trends that emerged in 2008 could favor magazine branded media online in 2009. For instance, comScore reports a decline in display ad exposure per online user, suggesting that more sites are reducing ad clutter in an effort to shore up falling CPMs with greater effectiveness and a focus on premium inventory. Advertisers in 2009 likely will be looking for the kinds of display qualities that come from experienced designers—share of voice and cleanly lit, attractive layouts. Similarly, advertisers will be looking for ways to leverage the hyperdistribution potential of distributed media (widgets, social network apps, mobile) and tie themselves to trusted brands as their content moves more freely across the Web. And, finally, the flight to quality in digital video could be a very strong suit for branded media as Webizens bring more of their video viewing online. Hulu has proved that the model for quality, professionally produced video content will work both for consumer and advertiser. The tricky part is finding where the user generally like to spend most of their time online and ensuring just the right content is near at hand.