Co.Create

PopSugar's Serious Bid to Remake Itself Into a Mega Media Brand

Consolidating its 15 networked blogs into one flashy destination that’s easy to read, watch, and shop, independently owned PopSugar is on the verge of becoming a major media player.

PopSugar, the blog network feeding ferocious appetites for fashion, fitness, and celebrity news, is betting big that a major rebrand will boost its take from originally produced content.

To do this, the six-year-old media company—which even overhauled its corporate name from Sugar, Inc. to PopSugar, Inc.—started by bringing together 15 separate sites including ShopStyle and Fashionologie into one web destination. Together they have drawn over 34 million users and 200 million page views, landing them a spot among the top 10 online sites for women between 18-34, according to comScore.

“When my wife and I started the business, I thought we’d be like a traditional [magazine] publisher,” CEO and cofounder Brian Sugar tells Co.Create. Like a Hearst or Conde Nast, Sugar says each blog operated as a separate title under the PopSugar umbrella. Now he says, PopSugar aims to be the one destination “for women to read, watch, and shop.”

Emphasis on the shop. “As media companies evolve, it is difficult for us to survive on display ads,” Sugar says. Indeed, though AOL consolidated its 53 content channels into 20 “power brands” back in 2011, it just posted its first revenue growth in eight years driven by an incremental gain in ad revenue.

Sugar notes, “Commerce was big thing for us in 2012. We drove over $450 million in gross retail sales for our retail partners [including] Neiman Marcus and J. Crew.” PopSugar gets a cut of those affiliate deals, though Sugar didn’t disclose how much. Incidentally, PopSugar also powers AOL’s shopping links. Sugar does point out that pulling all the content together in a redesigned site allows PopSugar to forge even more partnership opportunities with retailers and brands. His hope is that revenue streams will eventually shift from 45 percent display ads, 45 percent search, and 10 percent commerce to have each pull in about a third.

On the redesigned homepage now, you’ll see immediate evidence of this direction. The background is a wallpaper homage to brands like Curve fragrance with a click-to-shop button embedded on the right side (the brands change if you hit refresh). And just in case you need a bit more encouragement, the banner up top also features the ad with a slightly bolder click “shop now” directive.

Somehow, this doesn’t steal the thunder from the homepage “hero,” a near-screen width video display that begins after the page loads. It’s a feature that Sugar is banking on original live programming to be the secret sauce that brings the company even more bucks.

PopSugar produces 250 original videos every month, which garner 57 million views, according to Sugar. That translates to viewers spending 13 million hours gobbling up videos on the main site and through distribution channels on Hulu and Roku—even more than HuffPost Live’s 12-hour daily programming, which grew to 27 million views in January.

“We decided to invest $10 million” says Sugar, to produce a new, live show in their studios in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. PopSugar Live’s twice daily segments began February 21, showcasing about 22 minutes of exclusive interviews with celebrities such as Michelle Williams, snippets of New York Fashion Week, and helpful tips for making cocktails, interspersed with ads. The videos aren’t shoppable yet, but you can engage in live chats with other viewers. “Our vision is to have a 24-hour channel for women to watch and shop all the things we create,” Sugar underscores.

Sugar’s bottom line bet is on the PopSugar community. The more time users spend on the site, the more value they create for advertisers and affiliate marketers and ultimately for PopSugar, Inc. By tightly intertwining its content with commerce—and combining optimized search with favorite, share, and sale alert functions—PopSugar’s proffering a seamless experience of consumption in all its forms. All we can do now is sit back and watch.

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