AOL Launches Hollywood Patch

Company’s hyped hyperlocal network expands to L.A.

Patch has landed in Hollywood.

AOL quietly launched its latest edition of its much-hyped hyperlocal network of low-cost, community news-focused blogs in TheWrap’s backyard late last week.

The site — edited by Anna Bakalis and produced by a small army of freelancers — is focused primarily on local news and government issues (traffic, parking, weather, etc.) with little, if any, film industry coverage. Which is smart, given the established competition (L.A. Times, THR, Variety, TheWrap, Deadline et al) but nonetheless odd to omit.

“Our community leads the world in the creation of motion pictures, television shows and music,” Bakalis wrote in an introductory post. “But what does it mean to live and work here?”

I'm not sure, but when Patch says “local,” they mean local. (Example post: “Have you seen this lost dog near Franklin Village?”)

AOL, which launched Patch in 2009, has been aggressive in its expansion. The company already operates Patch editions in more than 100 California locales, including West Hollywood, North Hollywood and Studio City. Patch first launched in Southern California — Manhattan Beach — less than a year ago, when it had just 47 sites on its roster. (Patch currently has more than 500 sites in 19 states and the District of Columbia – and claims it was “the largest hirer of full-time journalists in the U.S.” in 2010.)

The market for local community news — compared to the motion picture industry — is easier for a startup (with AOL’s backing) to enter. The Hollywood edition faces competition on the Web from the L.A. Times, LAist, LAObserved, L.A. Weekly and local television and radio broadcasts. Otherwise, it’s a relatively open field.

But there are a few reasons the competition shouldn’t be shivering with fear.

The problem is, those who have spent time pouring over the Patch business model have yet to be convinced it can generate the kind of revenue AOL investors might want to see down the road — or at least the kind that can justify the company’s reported $50 million investment in the concept.

And that’s not to mention the plagiarism allegations and claims of sweatshop hours that have dogged the venture so far. (One journalism professor recently asked AOL chief Tim Armstrong if Patch is “evil.”)

Until those issues are resolved, Patch’s advantage will remain its size.