The world of celebrity gossip has always been fascinating to me. I don’t personally know any famous people yet somehow I care enough to want to know about their latest activities. I am not alone. This is a favorite pastime as evidenced by the numerous websites now dedicated to celebrity gossip. I decided to look at the one that has recently increased it’s awareness and firmly established itself: TMZ.com.
Celebrity gossip has been around forever in magazines and radio, but with the internet, magazine had the opportunity to expand to the new medium with websites like People.com and USmagazine.com. These sites were generally extensions of the magazine format with the advantage of being able to change/update content much faster. As blogging became more mainstream, TMZ was the first to use the blog format to deliver news in real-time so you could follow a story though it’s timeline. Their innovative concept was to be the online version of CNN Headline News except with celebrity gossip. With the help of a few major events in 2009, they gained traction and their strategy worked.
I looked at their web traffic over the past two years and compared them to People.com, one of the more historically established sites. There are three spikes in the data over the course of 2009 and eventually TMZ becomes more visited than People.com and one of Compete’s top 200 sites.
So what were these pivotal events? And what was it about those events that drove such traffic? In February of 2009, the public was abuzz about the Rihanna and Chris Brown. Without getting into the details, TMZ was the first to have photos and that led to tremendous traffic to their site. At the end of June and early July in 2009, was one of the biggest events in internet news history: the death of Michael Jackson. First, TMZ confirmed the death several hours before any other media outlet. Secondly, the details of this story took several weeks to emerge and TMZ was providing it’s blog with not only up to the minute news, but live streaming of various Jackson-related activities (the hospital where he died, Jackson’s family, Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, press conferences). Personally, I was glued to this story and found that I needed to spend just a few minutes at the end of the day with TMZ to get totally caught up. I switched my preference from People.com because TMZ provided me with the backstory on the blog not just the latest update. Finally in November of 2009 there was the Tiger Woods scandal. Again TMZ reported numerous details including first-hand accounts from Tiger’s neighborhood. It’s amazing that their site was so popular given that it was another celebrity outlet, US Weekly, that actually broke the story open with a certain voicemail. These three events drove traffic to the TMZ site, created awareness, and after nearly a year helped to overtake People.com.
Their strategy for differentiating themselves through the blog, real-time reporting, and video streams took time to gain traction, but clearly paid off. The format that TMZ provided played well to the way these stories unfolded. The public wanted an accurate, historical timeline they could follow and TMZ was the first and only place they could get it in that way. And once a visitor got used to the format, they continued to visit. TMZ gained momentum and awareness that carried out over time, eventually becoming a Compete top 200 site. In fact, there are a few new gossip sites like RadarOnline that are now copying the format. I would look for People and US Magazine to follow. A great (back) story in itself!
Alo Mukerji is the Managing Director of Product Strategy at Compete. At Compete she is responsible for identifying new product opportunities and long-term product roadmap. Before Alo joined the Compete team she worked at Constant Contact where she helped to expand the product suite beyond email marketing. Alo specializes in new product selection and definition, product management, and product pricing. She can be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/alo-mukerji/0/154/9a7