Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: MSN Inks New Deal With Wonderwall Creator BermanBraun for Online Lifestyle Site

MSN will announce a new deal with BermanBraun–the Hollywood production company run by former Yahoo media chief and well-known television exec Lloyd Braun (pictured here) and his business partner Gail Berman–to create, design and run an online lifestyle site aimed at fashion, decor, relationships and beauty.

The new site, still unnamed, will launch in the first half of next year.

As part of the deal with MSN, magazine giant Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.–publisher of Elle, Woman’s Day and Elle Decor–will provide content and editorial expertise.

BermanBraun Interactive and the Microsoft (MSFT) portal already jointly operate the Wonderwall celebrity news site, which was launched earlier this year.

Wonderwall, which is largely run by BermanBraun, has become one of MSN’s more vibrant and successful properties.

Launched last February, the site now reaches 9.5 million monthly unique users on average, racks up more than 225 million page views a month in the U.S., and holds the top rank in engagement–measured by page views and minutes per visit–among celeb sites.

Using an unusual horizontal design with a scrolling “wall,” a plethora of pictures and a deeply visual sensibility, it aggregates content from a variety of partners, but also use a small staff of editors to differentiate it and give it “voice.”

After seeing Wonderwall for the first time, I wrote that “I was struck by the site’s arresting visual design, particularly the easily interactive wall, which has what I can only call an ‘iPhone’ feel combined with a flipping-through-a-magazine tone.”

But, in an interview yesterday, Braun said the new site will be totally different in its design and sensibility.

“We could not be more thrilled about how Wonderwall has gone,” he said. “[But] the design of this [new] site will be very ambitious and there is no similarity….It will be a different type of experience.”

MSN U.S. head Scott Moore said that Microsoft is eager to take “the [BermanBraun] partnership a step further.”

Noting that MSN had been more successful with outside partners creating content, Moore said that the portal has the kind of traffic to allow that original material to thrive.

“This model has worked well for Microsoft over the years,” he said, further noting that “diversity” was a key element in spurring innovation in MSN’s programming.

victoria-beckham-elle-0

Said Todd Anderman, SVP for Digital Media at HFM, which already has Web sites for its well-known magazines: “When we look at the market, we see an opportunity to create a new brand.”

While MSN is selling the ads, as with Wonderwall, BermanBraun and HFM will also be part of the effort.

Moore would not discuss financial considerations of the deal, which was first cooked up six months ago, only noting that “everyone has skin in the game.”

But Braun said he was certain of success if the group sticks to making online content special. The site will use content that is original, from HFM and also from other partners.

“If we frame content in a certain way, people are going to click and be engaged,” he said. “It’s a terrific creative challenge.”

What’s perhaps most interesting here is the hard push for a unique editorial product, in contrast to the more aggregated approach of Yahoo (YHOO) and the new thrust by AOL–which will spin off from Time Warner (TWX) next week–aimed at creating content guided by search queries and consumer intent.

In any case, there are lots of roads in the competitive online content space.

Here’s an video interview I did with Braun right before Wonderwall was launched, as well as the press release for the new venture below it:

MSN, BermanBraun, and Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. Partner to Launch New Online Lifestyle Experience

REDMOND, Wash., LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK–Dec. 8, 2009–MSN, BermanBraun Interactive and Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. (HFM U.S.), publisher of ELLE, Woman’s Day and ELLE DECOR brands, have partnered to launch a new online lifestyle experience focused on style, beauty, relationships and home décor. The new site, which will launch in the first half of next year, will present a wide range of accessible content in an aspirational and innovative visual package. The design, programming and operations of the new digital brand will be spearheaded by BermanBraun and HFM U.S. MSN will lead the advertising sales efforts along with HFM U.S. on selected accounts.

BermanBraun and MSN, earlier this year, created and launched Wonderwall.com, which has become one of the top celebrity online news destinations reaching an average of 9.5 million unique users and 225 million page views a month in the U.S. since launch. Wonderwall.com has proved to be popular with advertisers and has achieved substantial success, compelling MSN and BermanBraun to extend their relationship and bring in HFM U.S., which has deep experience in establishing women’s brands on multiple platforms. The new lifestyle site, similar to Wonderwall.com, will be distributed through MSN and promoted on HFM U.S. Web sites and magazine properties. MSN will lead the advertising sales effort along with HFM U.S.

The lifestyle online category currently reaches an average of 100 million people every month, which is more than half of the online audience in the U.S. MSN Lifestyle is highly successful, averaging 7.3 million monthly unique users and 86 million monthly page views over the past 10 months. The new site will be designed to appeal to the highly valuable adult female audience, ages 25–49, building upon the existing MSN audience. This category of users is increasingly spending more time online and looking to the Internet for information on a range of topics. Adult females online are valuable to advertisers, as they tend to be affluent, educated and married with children, and drive many purchasing decisions for their families.

“Lifestyle is one of our top priorities because of its growing popularity and strong appeal to the adult female audience and advertisers that wish to reach them. We see a great opportunity to expand on our current lifestyle offering by delivering a new experience that is unique to the broader lifestyle category,” said Scott Moore, U.S. executive producer, MSN. “We’re excited to build on our proven model with BermanBraun, adding the category branding expertise and panache of HFM U.S. to deliver a compelling new lifestyle experience on MSN.”

“HFM U.S.’s vision is to build strong leading brands,” said Alain Lemarchand, president and CEO, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. “We believe that the strengths within our relationship are complementary, and together we can create an online destination that will be a unique and compelling experience for women.”

“We are thrilled to be in business with a world-class partner such as Hachette,” said principals Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun. “We look forward to building on our relationship with MSN and creating an innovative and unique lifestyle experience.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik