Can Glam Be a Web Version of a TV Net?

Last week Glam Media announced the launch of both a new publishing platform, Glam Create, as well as its own social network for niche content, Glam Connect. Founded as a curator/aggregator of thousands of female-centric blogs, Glam is now looking to become more of a TV network on the Web, with thousands of affiliates carrying the Glam brand while using Glam’s proprietary tools. But in this case, Glam has taken an ownership stake in the content its partners produce, a marked departure from the TV model and many of its blog network competitors. The big question is, are these moves a sign of problems at Glam and its network model or a sign that the company is ahead of the digital publishing curve? Digiday asked Glam founder and CEO Samir Arora for his take on the new Glam.

When Glam first launched, it was one of the first media companies built around this concept of pulling together the long tail for advertisers: identifying small blogs with niche followings, and/or influencers and packaging them together. Now a lot of companies do that. Are your new announcements a sign that Glam’s business model had to change?
Maybe the best way to answer that question is to look at our history and what’s changed in the environment, the industry. We are from Silicon Valley. Our founding team is not from traditional media. We are not an owned editorial type of company. Our core idea has not changed. This very, very simple notion that brand advertisers need to come to the Internet, there was no acceptance of that seven years ago. The thinking was all Internet advertising would be direct response. That’s a very silly notion. We kept to our belief system during the downturn and never turned to a mixed model like companies like Yahoo. There is a fundamental difference between direct response and trying to use intelligent marketing with data. We are a tech company. We’ve spent 18 months building this platform. We want high-quality content with high-quality advertising. When we launched, we had one owned and operated site, Looking back many things changed. The  single largest change that happened was social. We knew that consumers had started to go into long and mid tail. Content was no longer concentrated in a few destinations. But Glam had less to do with decline of a Yahoo. It was Google, Facebook and Twitter. We had no interest in creating an owned and operated network and no interest in becoming a giant performance ad network. We saw a middle. Now there are copycats like Federated. With our new platforms, we are now like a content franchise with affiliates. Like a TV network. Glam is your media partner for editorial curation, branding, etc. All your audience-reach data, advertising is now part of Glam. We treat you like franchise media players.
Did you have to take more financial control because the network ad model was no longer working?
During the recession, Glam did not have a single negative quarter. We grew 20 to 30 percent each quarter. The basis of Glam 2.0, given what we’ve learned is, “What is the biggest change in consumer behavior, and how do we modify our product going forward?” Not only are consumers going to smaller websites, whether they are focused on scuba diving, fashion, whatever, is what has started to happen is that you go to large social networks. And you were very much going to some small sites and behaving like a mini social network. That was a big a-ha for us. Not to create large social networks. We asked ourselves, social is the very basis of all content. So we pushed this notion of micro social communities where the author is the brand. It’s the notion of an owned and managed platform. This is the first time we are launching part of our business where the rights to content are owned by Glam. That’s a difference between a Facebook or a blogger.  We own the content. We have 4,000 journalists producing on 2,500 sites, so we’re not new to the business. But the technology you have to keep up with is very, very hard. Our goal was to actually a create a platform where Glam can put all the tech needs you have in one place. The second part is very new, Glam Connect. It’s almost like an antidote to what has happened to Facebook and Google. You can create small groups of circles and trust. Not just anyone can follow you.
Do you anticipate some content producers bailing out now that they no longer own their own content?
There’s going to be some percentage of bloggers who have asked us to do this, where ownership of content is secondary to ease and simplicity of writing. It’s not like a [content] farm-like model. You still have all these ways to make money. Some percentage of people will move. And there will be a new set of people who will recognize that you can start somewhere with the most advanced tools. I really do think they’ll be both. Glam has paid over $100 million to contnet creators already. We’re getting to the point where we have a lot of size and heft in the business. There is a a new class of long tail. This isn’t content in a box.
This industry is rife with examples of big publishers looking to become platform companies, and failing pretty miserably. I’m thinking of Yahoo’s AMP, which has been scaled back tremendously, and Microsoft’s PubCenter. Why is this approach going to work?
The first platform Glam created was Glam Adapt. We’ve fully deployed globally as a platform for premium display. It essentially replaces a DoubleClick. We’re not the first people to come up with the notion that a platform is an important part of business. For whatever set of reasons, Yahoo and others failed. Even AOL’s Project Devil is an attempt to create a new format. Yet AOL homepage is not even using it on their whole platform. Look at their homepage. It’s very, very hard. Cooking for one person, ten people, a thousand — it’s not the same at all.  But people have underestimated Glam’s heritage in Sillicon Valley. It is your DNA that defines you. Maybe our very singular focus has helped. My engineering team has been able to create a world-class display business that is now the sixth or seventh largest in the world. Changing while you’re flying is difficult. but we’ve done it. The social platform is really hard to do as well. What helps us there is that we have a Glam labs project, which provides a very large amount of learning. It handles live data streams from a very large firehose. We’ve had 100 brands test it, and that learning has helped. This is something we know how to do.
The conventional wisdom these days is that a publisher or even a big media company is making a big mistake trying to beat Facebook or Twitter at their own game.
We’ve done a lot of things that people would have thought are crazy. We’re not afraid of that. It’s about what you can do to be successful. I completely agree with you. By no means do I think our customers will be an island to themselves. We’re not new to this game. I worked with Bebo’s founder years ago. He told me that if you are going to have a social networking profile, you are going to have an average of 3.2 profiles. It’s not a winner-takes-all game. It only seems like Facebook is doing that. My notion is, you will be in multiple social networks. If you are a profession in content creation, you will need a company that provides you professional services,  help in cross managing social media. For example, a single social broadcast tool. There are real needs there.
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