Content sites enjoy benefits of licensing

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Web syndication creates revenue, builds traffic for online brands

If content is king on the Web, then content syndication can build a kingdom.

That's the logic behind properties ranging from Ripley's Believe It or Not! to interactive cartoons to major newspaper brands licensing their content to other sites.

It's no surprise big brands like Reuters NewMedia and Hearst New Media are feeding content to a variety of Web environments, or that companies like Netscape Communications Corp. (with its Destinations area) and InfoSeek (which uses Hearst HomeArts content, among others) want the added value of licensing content.

Such deals lend licensed brands additional exposure, while sites carrying the content gain new marketing inventory and in some cases a feature that is frequently updated and boosts traffic.


"I think it's an excellent idea, especially for marketers," said Matt Thornhill, president of Martin Interactive, Richmond, Va. "Does Marriott [a Martin client] need to have its own travel content? . . . What about buying original content or licensing it from a travel writer? It's a model we've considered."

Interactive content and direct marketing company SiteSpecific, New York, last week signed licensing clients Ripley's Believe It or Not! and a 1995 Penguin Books property, "The Secret Language of Birthdays," to steer them through the syndication process.


"You could say we're becoming a content rep firm," said SiteSpecific President Seth Goldstein. "The model is Creative Artists Agency." Through a new division named Shrapnel, the company will manage content licensees that want to distribute targeted packages to different Web settings--localized sites, subject-themed sites, search engines, etc.

SiteSpecific tapped Web veteran Jeff Einstein as director of programming to run that division. Mr. Einstein co-founded interactive shop Einstein & Sandom, now owned by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.


While the Web media plan for both clients is not yet mapped, Ripley's brand has begun developing targeted properties in print, such as regional Believe It or Not! books about different states. Such targeting would translate naturally to localized Web sites.

"What excites me about the Web . . . is that for the first time we have a target audience," said Robert Whiteman, director of licensing at Whiteman Worldwide, Rye, N.Y., which represents the Ripley's Believe It or Not! brand. "We can target Believe It or Not!s around the world."

For this kind of deal, a client like Ripley's pays no money upfront, Mr. Goldstein said, but pays as users access the site. SiteSpecific takes 25% of revenue generated.

SiteSpecific client Duracell International is considering using custom Ripley's content in its 1997 interactive marketing campaign, Mr. Goldstein said.

Licensing content is by no means a sure revenue stream, however.


Seattle-based Interactive Features Syndicate is offering several weekly cartoon features for sites.

But after a week of unsuccessful meetings company President Stu Heinecke has already changed his approach. Instead of asking sites to pay upfront, he will provide a 30-day free trial.

"We're finding people are quite reluctant to spend on content on their Web sites," Mr. Heinecke said. "Without case histories, I'm not sure what will happen with this concept, though I've seen it work in direct mail."

Interactive Features hopes to charge sites $1,000 per month to provide cartoons that users can personalize by adding their name, company name, etc.

The company provides a separate feature built exclusively for NBC's Peacock Park site.


Interactive Features also will sell customized merchandise and split sales revenue 50-50 with the licensee.

Songline Studios, Sebastopol, Calif., is talking with 12 companies about licensing its Movie Critic, said Mark Jacobsen, senior VP-business affairs.

MovieCritic allows registered users to rate and comment on films. Deals could appear on the Web in mid-June, he said.

Sites that license Movie Critic will pay annual rates of $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the number of users the site serves.

SiteSpecific's Messrs. Einstein and Goldstein said the ultimate goal of the "content rep firm" model they're building is to enable the kind of marketing deals in which marketers pay based on consumer responses, such as a click-through rate.

Copyright June 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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