The Awl Goes for Laughs With Spin-off Site Splitsider

Irreverent Blog Launched by Gawker Vets Is Getting Some Brand Dollars, Including Gillette

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Awl is expanding. The three-man enterprise, run by editors Choire Sicha and Alex Balk and publisher David Cho, will now include a fourth in its effort to launch a new site today called Splitsider, which will focus on comedy and entertainment news. Headed by former Gizmodo associate editor and sometime comedian Adam Frucci, Splitsider will be an Awl-like take on the world of entertainment.

The Awl is launching a new comedy site called Splitsider.
The Awl is launching a new comedy site called Splitsider.
"It's a blog about movies, TV shows, web videos, books and the people behind them," Mr. Frucci said. "But it's centered around comedy. I feel like there's a lot of talk these days about how the internet is changing entertainment, but I feel like comedy is really where that's happening more than anywhere else. 'Mad Men' isn't really threatened by three-minute YouTube videos -- 'SNL' skits are."

Splitsider launches in beta today, accessible via password, but the site will be publicly available next week after Labor Day.

"It's just short news posts for now," Mr. Frucci said.

The site will feature regular columns and articles when it goes public next week. A regular column on British comedy, for example, will be penned by TV writer Curtis Gwinn. Another feature which will be posted next week will take a look at comedies that don't stand up to the test of time. "Good comedy has no expiration date," Mr. Frucci said. "It has a shelf life."

Mr. Frucci is perhaps better equipped than most blogger-editors to manage a humor publication. For the last three years, he has been part of an improv troupe at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, an experimental comedy lab based in New York and Los Angeles where some former and current "Saturday Night Live" cast members got their start.

"I've always been doing improv," he said, though he more specifically started at Syracuse University, where he majored in English as well as TV, radio and film. Mr. Frucci also interned at the "Daily Show" during his undergraduate tenure. "It was an amazing experience to be there," he said, though admittedly, transcribing President George Bush's speeches wasn't exactly what he was hoping to do. "It was a typical internship," he said. More recently, Mr. Frucci has been performing improv every Tuesday night at Upright. "It's long-form improv," he explained. "It's just fun."

As part of The Awl's now micro-media empire, Mr. Cho will manage Splitsider's ad sales and business.

"This is kind of where our new plan is," Mr. Cho told Ad Age a few months ago about its intentions to start a new site. "Find writers who are really talented. We own half the site. We'll set you up with ads and everything, but he needs to fill it, he needs to make sure that people are coming to it. Because if people aren't coming to it, no one's going to make money."

Though The Awl certainly exhibits the quick-post metabolism that is Gawker's stock-in-trade, it also offers a wider array of content, from one-line posts to 3,000-word essays on the perils of freelance writing. Mr. Frucci, who was an associate editor for Gawker, will have complete editorial control over Splitsider. "Working for Gawker for four years is a pretty amazing education," he said.

"I'm personally delighted to be going into partnership with the talented Adam Frucci, who's worked with some of the best in the blogging biz," Choire Sicha wrote in an e-mail.

Splitsider is starting without any launch sponsors, though in some ways that fits into The Awl's ethos of smart, small, cheap. Mr. Cho manages ad sales across both sites himself, but he has also partnered with Federated Media to sell some of the inventory. More recently, Gillette began sponsoring specific posts on The Awl.

"With The Awl, the goal was to create content that focused on the 'connoisseur' within your group of friends," said Kristen Gugliotta, spokeswoman for Gillette parent Procter & Gamble. Mr. Cho clarified that Gillette requests the audience they want to reach, and The Awl's editors match it to their editorial plans. "Gillette never sees content before it goes live," he said.

Though The Awl has become a steady read among media professionals and urban enthusiasts, it's still a modest operation. They're currently attracting a little over half a million monthly readers, said Mr. Cho, but they're on track to bring in about 1 million readers by the end of the year, which, if true, is an impressive figure given that it's run by only three people.

"I think even though we're small, the access that we have is why a lot of advertisers want to work with us," Mr. Cho explained. "We can be like, 'I'll get you access to this really great gallery owner in L.A. blowing up right now and all these young artists, and you're brand X who wants to reach all these alternative art people.'"

The Awl in many ways tracks in the same sense of publishing notoriety as Gawker, which has become the gold standard among blog operations and speaks in some ways to The Awl's ambitions.

"I love Gawker," said Carrie Frolich, managing director of digital for MEC North America. "It's not for everyone, or for every client, or for every campaign, but as a site and others like them, they tend to attract a very affluent and intelligent and higher-educated crowd, and for some clients those people are their target ." Ms. Frolich pointed out that brands looking to advertise on blogs like Gawker have to be comfortable enough to let go.

"Our content is going to be very pointed, for sure," Mr. Frucci said. "The Awl is the model. They're big shoes to fill."

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