New York Times: In Hollywood News Wars, TheWrap Rebounds

The New York Times, March 23, 2014

By 

LOS ANGELES — Talk about going from fizzle to sizzle.

A year ago, TheWrap.com was still trundling along as an also-ran in Hollywood’s hotly competitive trade news wars. The Hollywood Reporter was riding a slick redesign. Variety was finally getting its act together by dropping an online paywall. Deadline Hollywood was breathing its usual fire.

TheWrap, founded in 2009 by Sharon Waxman, a former reporter for The New York Times, was not doing anything terribly wrong. It just was not adding much, either.

Then Ms. Waxman unveiled a badly needed redesign of the website, using $2 million in financing from a venture capital firm co-founded by Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks. In a significant shift in strategy, she also started openly chasing traffic with lists and catnip headlines. (“6 Craziest Malaysia Flight Conspiracy Theories — From Alien Abductions to Courtney Love‘s Reasoning.”)

“We had to do something to move the needle,” said Ms. Waxman, who also runs a conference business related to TheWrap that is expanding to New York. “I was very focused on serious news, but you have to balance that with news that is ‘clicky.’ “

TheWrap has also focused more intently on the quality of its journalism. Ms. Waxman expanded her staff by 40 percent, with new employees landing scoops and producing weighty features, like one on the last hours of the “Fast & Furious” star Paul Walker. TheWrap set off a media frenzy in January when its television critic wrote about daring to ask Lena Dunham a tough question at a news conference for her show, “Girls.”

Ms. Waxman also got a lucky break from the competition. Deadline Hollywood has had to cope with the loss of its firebrand founder, Nikki Finke, who departed in November.

For the months of December through February, the heart of the all-important Oscars advertising season, TheWrap attracted an average of 2.8 million unique visitors from United States desktop computers, according to comScore. In the period a year earlier, TheWrap had an average of 755,000 unique visitors.

TheWrap’s most direct competitor, the similarly online-only Deadline Hollywood, averaged 2.6 million visitors, up from 2.1 million in the year-ago period. After removing its paywall, Variety had 2.72 million visitors for the recent period, up from 533,000; The Hollywood Reporter averaged 5.6 million, up from 4.9 million.

Ms. Waxman said that internal numbers, which include traffic from mobile devices, indicate that TheWrap is on track to reach 10 million unique visitors by year’s end. “Guess what?” she said. “We moved the needle.”

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