Whether or not you're fond of the content -- and that largely depends on whether you fall into the young-machismo demo it's after -- Heavy.com has built its share of advertising fans, based mostly on its willingness to create custom campaigns and integrations. And with a trio of C-suite hires, it is raising questions about what might be the site's next move.
Eric Hadley is leaving his post as general manager of global marketing at MSN to serve as Heavy's chief marketing officer in charge of all sales and marketing; new Chief Financial Officer Todd Sloan arrives after stints where he took both About.com and Nielsen/NetRatings public; and Chief Technology Officer Scott Penberthy comes to the company from the VP-engineering post at Photobucket.
Though many industry watchers suspect content companies might compose the next round of acquisitions, Heavy's two co-founders, Simon Assaad and David Carson, aren't saying whether Heavy has IPO dreams or is close to being acquired (the past year has seen several rumors of this). What they will say is the amount of attention they're getting from marketers is unprecedented in the site's short history.
Heavy recently closed three upfront commitments with agencies, and each "far outweighs any single deal we've gotten through any campaign by a factor of 10," Mr. Assaad said. The commitments total $8.5 million.
"They've finally gotten to a place where advertisers care. With a couple million unique [visitors] they've got a respectable audience," said David Cohen, exec VP and U.S. director-digital communications at Universal McCann, which closed a 12-month commitment with Heavy for several of its major clients, including extensions for some who already advertise on the site, such as the U.S. Army. The deal could see Heavy create specific channels for an electronics marketer to wrap its advertising around or develop programming for the Army. Mr. Cohen lauded the site's experimentation with new ad types and ability to reach males 18 to 24 -- "not an easy thing to do."
A deal with Group M is the largest of the three, and includes advertising in Canada and possibly the U.K., where Heavy expanded earlier this year. Much of that commitment is anchored around Axe, a brand Heavy has worked with before, although it's also opening up opportunities with clients such as Sprint.
Heavy has also inked a seven-figure deal with MediaStorm, which negotiated a channel for its client FX that will feature "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," a bit of a cult hit for the network. "There are plenty of video sites out there, but very few with the same face these guys have put on their business -- they go to bat for you," said Craig Woerz, co-managing partner at MediaStorm. According to some buyers, when it comes to the young-male demographic, Heavy has been just as competitive as the portals in terms of delivering video views.
Like most internet companies that have been through multiple rounds of funding, Heavy is under pressure to produce results. Mr. Assaad and Mr. Carson created the site in 1999 and survived the dot-com-bubble burst. In January, the company raised its fifth round of funding -- a marathon even in the current internet-ad-happy climate -- with $20 million from Polaris Ventures, following an earlier $10 million investment.
This summer the pair launched an ad network called Husky where they will wrap branded skins around videos, an ad unit they like to tout. The next step, according to Messrs. Assaad and Carson, is to plug programming into that network, syndicating it across the web. The third stage will be to broaden the model to other demographics, including women-focused videos and verticals.