Not to flout the rules of journalistic objectivity or anything, but “Glee” is the best TV show ever. Cory Monteith (“Finn”) is the greatest thing to happen to my week nights since $5 hot-and-ready pizzas at Little Caesars. And now there’s a new celebrity/entertainment gossip Web site where I can find all of the latest news surrounding “Glee” (and Cory). But will it deliver the “complete experience” that it promises?
Wetpaint launched Webpaint Entertainment Monday, a destination for women who like TV and fashion. It showcases 15 channels, each focusing on a different popular TV show, including “Glee,” “Jersey Shore,” “Nikita,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Hellcats,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Top Chef,” “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “Castle,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Pretty Little Liar,” and “Real Housewives of DC.”
Each channel provides comprehensive information, rumors, photos, videos, interviews, and news for each TV show. Additionally, each Wetpaint channel comes with its own individual Facebook fansite, so that fans can stay abreast of the most current gossip. In its pre-launch phase, Wetpaint culled some 500,000 fans on Facebook, pointing to the site’s social future.
This is quite a departure from Wetpaint's roots. Known for its focus on collaborative content, Wetpaint had heretofore prided itself on being a wiki-hosting platform that allowed anyone to create a fan page with a wiki component - meaning anyone could contribute.
Essentially, it was not dissimilar from blog hosting sites, like Six Apart, whose TypePad service is a significant platform for bloggers. Much like blog hosting platforms, Wetpaint didn't own its content and it pursued large media and entertainment companies to be the platform upon which they could build their fan pages.
Not anymore. The new site marks a pronounced shift in the Wetpaint business model away from wiki/social publishing toward original content, which suggests the company is no longer finding the social market terribly hospitable.
The new Wetpaint operates through a combined effort of real life writers and editors and technology that combs the Web for the most recent and most popular news stories, using social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, and gossip forums. After sifting through the bottomless heaps of Internet gossip and finding the most recent stories available, many of those stories are then assigned to real writers, who produce original content for the Web site.
The site currently employs a team of 20 writers and 10 editors, and Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz estimates that each TV show will get about 20 posts of information per day. While many of the stories will be written by professional writers, a large chunk of the information will be sourced from other gossip sites and will be re-flavored with Wetpaint’s editorial style.
While the company could not be reached for comment, Elowitz has told other news organizations that during the site’s soft launch, 40 percent of its traffic came from Facebook. Furthermore, traffic is growing at a rate of 50 percent each month, and the company intends to see more growth when it launches its mobile apps later this year.
The Web site faces competition from similar gossip sites, like TMZ, Entertainment Weekly, and E! News, not to mention the likes of Perez Hilton. Additional competition is bound to come from sites that employ similar Web-combing technology, like Demand Media.
But what has prompted this shift away from social publishing to original content? For one, it could be that generating advertising on user-generated sites just wasn't cutting it and most big fan pages are being created on Facebook, and importanly with $40 million in venture financing raised, Wetpaint had to come up with a solution.
While Wetpaint is holding onto the social element from which it originated by fusing its content with social networks like Facebook, its new focus suggests a desire for the safety and security of professionally produced content.
But will it work?
In a February 2009 interview with VatorNews, Elowitz remarked that the beauty of socially produced content is that “the audience comes back every month. They don’t just stick a badge on their Facebook page—do it, set it, forget it...” But that seems to be what Wetpaint.com is striving for now.
Additionally, it’s doubtful that celebrity gossip followers would limit themselves to a handful of popular TV shows. You would have to be pretty obsessive to check on the rumors surrounding one or two (or even 15) TV shows every day, which is the advantage of sites like TMZ. There’s a little something for everyone, and a little something on everything.
More importantly, there are already thousands of other sites just like TMZ, so Wetpaint.com is not just pitting itself against established media brands, but against numbers as well.