As we know, ad network is a big word that covers multiple realities. You’ll find horizontal ad networks (scale and reach across multiple content sites with no discrimination on the content type), vertical ad networks (that represent sites mostly on the same vertical or segment), behavioral ad networks (buying data from publishers enabling them to then reach a particular audience when the user is not any more on the origination site) etc.
These networks can sell premium inventory, remnant, data, video inventory or push out market exchanges that help publishers to connect with advertisers etc.
The vertical ad networks focused on women really started to take off in late 2005 and 2006 reached a peak early with very high transaction price and multiples (a good example is the $85m round raised by Glam early 2008 as a public valuation north of $450m – see the TechCrunch post there).
Still looking at our ComScore December figures (they’re here), we can identify a lot of them highly ranked. Some of them are part of other networks. For all of them, the game is to add properties and have them sign traffic assignment letters for ComScore and Nielsen, enabling the network to show bigger and aggregated traffic figures.
Current Women Networks
Here are the main ones:
- Glam: Founded and headed by the flamboyant Samir Arora, the women ad network now reaches about 61m monthly uniques, from 25m UV in December 2007. As Samir says himself, the company has been changing multiple times its business model, from apure content site around Glam.com, to a classic ad network where the company gave out guarantees to add publishers to its networks. More recently, Glam, probably noting that the addition of well-respected brands would help them to increase their very low CPMs, has been reaching out to well established media properties and proposing them to put their network strenghts and their scale at the service of these brands. Example: the creation of the Lifetime Networks. Lifetime aggregates its sites under Glam and Glam will then aggregates some of its networks sites that are relevant to Lifetime under the Lifetime network. The proposal seems at first a no brainer for the publisher: he wasn’t initially able to grow Lifetime and all of a sudden, he’s gaining a couple millions uniques every month. For Glam, things stay the same except that they now have more uniques plus a brand that accepts to be part of their network. Finally, Glam decided also to launch vertical networks in different women subsegments (shelter and home, parenting etc.) as well as a men segment. The women network now counts approximately 250+ sites in ComScore with some of them having little to do with women. Example, JibJab, an ecard service, reached 9.4m UV in December. Squidoo (Seth Godin’s company) is also reported even if it’s pretty far from a women content site (but represented 5m UV). Last example, Dogster is a content and social network sites around dogs…
- EveryDayHealth: The Waterfront Media company, managed and created by Ben Wolin and Mike Keriakos (both initially from Belief Media, that was acquired by Fox last year) is mostly focused on health and well being. It merged in 2008 with Steve Case’s Revolution Health. The operation is a clever one since it helped the network gain 10m UV as well as beefing up its condition-specific expertise (the traditional background of Waterfront is more in the fitness and wellness area. The company was built on the cash flow generated by the online marketing of the South Beach Diet program, licensed from Rodale). The company is mostly established on own and operated websites but they’ve been adding a couple of large properties in 2008 (before the merge with Revolution Health), in an attempt to close the gab with WebMD. The network represents now 27m UVs from 12m UVs in December 2007 and is comprised of about 30 sites (most of the traffic is internal vs. repped).
- iVillage: The NBCU acquired property is an old name in the internet world. It got acquired in February 2006 by NBCU for $650m under the leadership of Beth Comstock (who since then went back to GE). The company has been integrated into NBC Digital sales (even if Peter Naylor, the ex head of sales for iVillage is still leading the charge at NBCU for the women related properties). In 2007 and 2008, the network added more and more external sites, in an attempt to resist the irrestible growth of Glam. Just like Glam, they also started giving out guarantees to large sites to add them to their network and offset the decline of their historic properties. They’ve actually went a step further with two investments: one in Sugar Publishing (that then decided to take back the ad sales and the corresponding traffic) and one in BlogHer (a blog ad network based in SF). Lately, the head of iVillage, Deborah Fine, has been replaced by Jodi Kahn (ex Reader Digest). A change of strategy is to be expected and, with the declining value of display advertising businesses, that should result in external sites leaving the network after iVillage decides not to renew the guarantees they’ve been offering previously. The network is currently composed of around 50 sites, representing 21m UVs (from 17m UVs in December 2007). Most of the traffic is from external sites (BlogHer and Daily Makeover being the two biggies here).
- She Knows / Gorilla Nation: The women ad network part of Gorilla Nation has been growing through the addition of external publishers as well as the multiple acquisitions that the company has done in 2007 and 2008. It is entirely backed by Great Hill Partners. I’ll tell you more after I meet this week with the founder of Gorilla Nation but until then, the network is composed of approx 40 sites that reached 8.4m UVs in December 2008 vs. 4.8m 12 months before.
The CPMs are dropping: Obviously the biggest challenge for all these networks is the proclaimed dip of CPMs on display advertising. The success of a vertical network is to justify the cut of 50% by the ability to reach larger ad buys (because of the scale) while not having too low CPMs (because of the proclaimed vertical and niche reach of women “24 to 49”). But the model was completly perversed by Glam when they aggregated very low quality sites and small blogs. Also, the decrease in CPMs is already having a big impact on all the ecosystem: most of the networks are now focusing back on the key sites on the network and don’t give anymore guarantee to publishers).
The value of ad networks is blurred: Because of the Glam / iVillage competition that drove both of them to aggregate as much as they can, despite the quality of the site or the relevance of the network, advertisers are more and more reluctant in buying a network inventory unless prices are slashed (but in this case, we’re getting close to the horizontal networks and the whole rationale of building a vertical network, based on the ability to command higher CPMs, is crushed).
ComScore and Nielsen: I’m very convinced that most of these aggregation strategies were in large part driven by the ComScore and Nielsen games (i.e. how to appear the biggest women network on ComScore to the attention of the 21 years old agency planners…). ComScore already announced to its members that it intended to break down the Women vertical into a lot of different subverticals (health, food, fashion and beauty etc.). That also might change the networks strategies when they realised that once sliced and diced, they’re not this impressive…
Stay tuned for the Part 3 on The Women Content Sites