‘Gold Derby’ Site to Relaunch Outside of L.A. Times

Tom O’Neil reclaims his long-running awards site as the Times’ five-year license expires, though the paper will sell his ads

The Gold Derby website, one of the longest-running awards sites on the Internet, will relaunch in November as an independent site after five years of operation as part of the Los Angeles Times’ awards site the Envelope.

Gold Derby’s founder, Tom O’Neil, who has written the Gold Derby blog at the Envelope for the past five years, will continue to write for the Envelope’s online and print editions. The revived GoldDerby.com will be 100 percent owned by O’Neil, but the Times will exclusively handle ad sales for the site, and will earn a percentage of those sales.

Jackie Earle Haley and Tom O'Neil

“I intended to do this from the start – that’s the reason I didn’t sell my site in 2005,” O’Neil told theWrap of the move, which comes five years after the Times licensed his site for the launch of the Envelope.

“I always told them, ‘I intend to reboot the site and compete against you at some point,’” laughed O’Neil (left, with Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley). “Though I’m not sure they took me seriously when I said it.”

O’Neil said he informed the Times in early August of his intention to relaunch his site as an independent operation, expecting "that would mean I'd have to exit the Times." Instead, he said, the paper immediately began trying to make a deal that would keep him as part of the Envelope, and also link his revived site to the Times.

Although the Times didn’t know it at that point, it could ill afford to lose O’Neil, its most prominent awards columnist and one of the best-known and longest-running Oscar pundits. Not long after O’Neil told the Times of his plans and negotiations began, the paper’s well-liked “Notes on a Season” columnist, Pete Hammond, jumped ship to Deadline.com, leaving O’Neil as the only Times blogger to focus solely on the various awards seasons.

Although the paper reportedly interviewed numerous candidates to replace Hammond, the Envelope is expected to launch a new collective awards blog on November 1, to which O’Neil and many Times staffers will contribute.

O’Neil said that his new contract calls for him to contribute “several items per day” to the new blog. His current Gold Derby blog will be discontinued when the new column launches.

The rebooted GoldDerby.com will be accessible through the Envelope, and the Gold Derby Forums – a section of the Envelope that draws substantial traffic – will remain part of the Times’ site. O’Neil will launch a separate set of forums on his new site.

“It’s inevitably competitive, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said of the two sites. “But in this case, there’s a good logic to having two sites, and it’s wise of the Times and the Tribune Company to embrace that.” 

O’Neil said that he hopes to structure a new deal in the coming months that would make the paper an equity partner in his reborn site. At present, though, the Times’ only input into the new Gold Derby will be selling its advertising space and taking a cut.

In a press release expected to be issued on Wednesday, John O’Loughlin, the Times’ executive vice president of sales, said, “[W]e are delighted to provide our advertisers the expanded portfolio our deeper relationship with GoldDerby.com offers. Advertisers want to be a part of the excitement and reach the industry insiders and awards junkies we attract.”

The new Gold Derby, O’Neil said, will be “a full-bodied website” with news articles, photo galleries, separate blogs devoted to film, television, music and theater, and the extensive use of video, both in interviews with contenders and features with other awards pundits.

Paul Sheehan, who worked on the original Gold Derby between its launch in 1999 and its absorption into the Envelope in 2005, has been hired to serve as executive editor of the relaunched site. Several of the site’s frequent commenters, including Chris “Boomer” Beachum and Rob Licuria, have been promoted to senior editor status.

O’Neil said he also plans to prominently feature breakdowns of the leading awards races using racetrack-style odds.

As for his ability to remain a heavy contributor to the Envelope while overseeing a new site that will inevitably become a competitor for the attention of awards-obsessed readers, O’Neil knows that he may be in for a taxing workload.

“My secret plan was to do this and become less busy,” he said. “I thought, if I can get Gold Derby back, I can employ lots of people to do things for me. But it turns out I’m going to have to work twice as hard.”

(Full disclosure: I wrote the “Oscar Beat” blog for the Envelope for the 2005-2006 awards season, and did occasional features for the site for two years after that.)

 (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images.)