TMZ's Alan Citron: '24/7 news is going to get more intense'

Bambi Francisco Roizen · June 18, 2008 · Short URL:

TMZ is a celebrity news site that ranked No. 4 in the latest Nielsen Online ratings (released this week) for the top 10 blogs in the U.S., with 8 million unique visitors, nearly twice as much as TheHuffingtonPost.

To that end, hearing what Alan Citron, TMZ's general manager, is doing to change the news paradigm and attract such an audience is worth noting. I caught up with Alan last week in Hollywood at the OnHollywood conference hosted by AlwaysOn. In this video interview, Alan talks about how news is changing. The top two trends he sees are: 1) More intense news coverage as a plethora of voices uncover tidbits of information 2) The rise of live streaming events. Demand for more live streaming should be good news for companies like NowLive, a hoster/enabler of live events.

Besides this on-camera interview, here's a transcript of an interview I did with Alan to prepare for our panel on the New, new news model at OnHollywood. (This interview is similar to the ones I did with Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, and Dan Farber, Editor in Chief, CNet.


BF: Can you tell me a bit more about TMZ? How are you changing the news business paradigm?

Alan: TMZ is one of the most successful online news start-ups in recent times, largely because of it’s 24/7 reporting and gritty style. It first gained attention for raw video footage of celebrities and later became known for a series of exclusive stories, such as Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks after a DUI arrest and Michael Kramer’s racist rant at a comedy club. It’s been been the #1 ranked entertainment news site for most of the past year and a half and has caused others in our space, including print and TV, to change how they cover the business.

BF: Name three major trends in the news business (besides the fact that the audience is fragmenting and more people are getting news online and from multiple sources)

Alan: 24/7 reporting, News nuggets instead of stories, More video

BF: What do the changes at the Journal - starting to look a lot like USA Today and NYTimes combined - underscore about the changing news landscape?

Alan: In an unsettled environment, there are land grabs.

BF: What news outlets do you admire? Who's doing it right and what are they doing?

Alan: No one’s nailed it. NYT has the best web site among old media. The problem is, old media still treats the web like a subset of print. HuffPost and Drudge are both compelling new media products.

BF: Who's making money in news today, and why?

Alan: The WSJ Online is supposed to be very profitable. Some bloggers also do well because their costs are so low.

BF: How are you producing the content? To what extent do you count on bloggers, freelancers and/or wannabe pundits who enjoy opining and have a lot of free time on their hands?

Alan: We rely on our staff.

BF: What payment models are you incorporating to incentivize contributors/writers/producers/editors?

Alan: Our staff is on straight salary.

BF: Who's breaking the news these days?
Alan: Everyone

BF: Who's distributing the news these days? CBS, Google or Twitter?

Alan: It doesn’t matter. Users are customizing news feeds to fit their interests.

BF: How are the changes in the news industry affecting your business negatively/positively and what are you doing about it?

Alan: It’s all positive from our perspective.

BF: Seems big media companies thought about getting into the ad-network game - Reuters, Wired - but they've dropped that initiative. Are creating ad networks of small bloggers a tough business?

Alan: Ad networks drag down CPMs. Companies should maximize value by selling their properties individually.

BF: How do you make money?

Alan: Advertising.

BF: You say: TMZ has "been been the #1 ranked entertainment news site for most of the past year and a half and has caused others in our space, including print and TV, to change how they cover the business." - How has TMZ caused others to change the way they cover business? And, who's "others" in your space?

Alan: TMZ is part of a larger phenomenon of web sites breaking old news cycles. Previously, if People or EW got a hot celeb picture, they could sit on it till their publishing deadline. Now, that picture is likely to pop up on the Internet immediately. So, they have to work harder to find fresh content to fill their pages. Similarly, TV strips like ET and Access Hollywood, which are put to bed mid-day, often miss late-breaking news. Most of them have updated their web sites and adopted the blog format to augment their coverage. 

BF: Are you in the breaking news business? And, if everyone is in the breaking-news business, how are you trying to add value? Or what's working?

Alan: We’re all in the breaking news business. And what works is breaking more news than your competitors. The most aggressive, reliable sites will win the day.

BF: TV was a marketing engine for our Web strategy when I was at MarketWatch. Is the TV strategy driving traffic to your site? Essentially, is it the Web serving the Web? Or, is it the Web serving TV.

Alan: They seem to be driving each other. Keep in mind that we’re half owned by AOL, so a significant percentage of Internet traffic comes from them. The web site, in turn, promotes the TV show.
BF: Thanks, Alan





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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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