AOL Seeks to Replicate TMZ’s Success

TMZ, which first broke the story of Michael Jackson’s death, continued to out-reach celebrity gossip rags in covering the superstar’s funereal final curtain yesterday.

TMZ was developed in-house at AOL in December, 2005, a few months after AOL acquired Jason Calcanis’ Weblogs, Inc. for $25M. The deal brought several notable blogs like Engadget, Joystiq, TV Squad and Autoblog to the massive audience at AOL.com, which had 55M UV in June and ranked as the 11th largest domain in the US.

Since 2005, TMZ and the Weblogs, Inc. properties have done fairly well in AOL’s care — all have experienced 3X growth or greater, but TMZ has been the only runaway hit.

More recently, AOL’s new CEO Tim Armstrong (formerly Google’s Chief of Sales) is rumored to be set to announce a renewed focus on original content like that produced by TMZ and its blog brethren.

AOL consolidated its publisher properties back in January with MediaGlow, gearing up to streamline the sales process for AOL-owned sites like PopEater.com, WalletPop.com, Fanhouse.com and AOL portal subdomains like News, Television and Shopping. MediaGlow properties (as listed on their website) reached 35M UV in June, up 30% over the past year.

Now look for Armstrong and his deal-making lieutenants to be on the lookout for other blogs and original content properties to add some wattage to the MediaGlow portfolio.

Silicon Alley Insider has already speculated on some potential acquisition targets like video producers Next New Networks and Revision3. Next New Network shows, as listed on their website, hit 175k aggregate unique visitors in June, while Revision3.com had 125K. Nearly half of both audiences also visited AOL.com in the same period.

While these numbers place them in the potential mid-ranks of MediaGlow, both could grow wildly if promoted on AOL’s homepage. Strategically, both also offer demographically-targeted shows that would appeal to wide swaths of AOL’s audience and advertisers alike.

Applying this targeting criteria to the long tail of sites in Compete’s vertical publisher categories yields some very interesting ideas that I’ll share in a future post.

An earlier version of this post was corrected to reflect TMZ’s founding status.