TMZ, the in-news online celeb site that is part owned by Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) siblings AOL and Telepictures, brought its ad sales in house this month, paidContent has learned and confirmed from the companies. Till now, the online ad sales of the JV site was done by AOL, but now the company has hired in-house sales execs to do the job — and is still hiring, while working closely with Warner-owned Telepictures on the TV ad sales. Pam Russo, the GM of TMZ.com, told me the company and site have evolved into a big entity in itself, outgrowing the Platform-A infrastructure and how AOL sells the ads. This would help in the 360-degree multiplatform ad campaigns that agencies like a lot these days. What she left unsaid: the Platform-A platform doesn’t fit well with custom ad units and site takeovers, something that has been the stable of other celeb sites (and a favorite of new TV show launches on sites such as Gawker and PerezHilton.com).
This comes as some questions about the future of the site lurk, as AOL prepares its spinoff from Time Warner.
TMZ founder Harvey Levin doesn’t own a piece of the website, but is a partner in the namesake syndicated TV show, and the newly launched TV spinoff Beyond Twisted (the company would not confirm this). It is likely nothing has been decided yet. The ties with AOL still run deep: AOL still hosts the site, and TMZ uses Blogsmith, the blog CMS system that AOL uses for its own blog sites (it acquired it when it bought Weblogs Inc in 2005). AOL’s Advertising.com also serves the ads on TMZ.com.
TMZ.com has been profitable since it launched, but remains to be seen how it looks this year and next, especially if it goes completely independent of AOL. No one would confirm the revenues, but they are likely in the $15 million range. AOL still drives a lot of traffic to it, but TMZ now has to compete with AOL’s own celeb portal Popeater, among others, and one source says the contracted number of AOL homepage placements have gone down, though TMZ says it got a lot of promotion during the Michael Jackson story. The two sites differ in tone: TMZ is focused on hard-hitting breaking news, while Popeater is a more advertiser-friendly venue focused on soft-focus stories and celeb interviews. AOL still has a prominent link to TMZ in its main navigation — and other places — which it is contractually obligated to, so that will continue.
TMZ gets about 30 percent of traffic from organic search, the company says, from a total of 10 million uniques last month (according to Comscore’s data for May 2009). The syndicated TV show, which runs on Fox affiliates around the country, was successful enough that Warner Bros. has launched a new show Beyond Twisted, which just started on a test run across some Fox affiliates.