Hearst Debuts Automated Topics Site LMK.com

Hearst is launching a new media brand this morning and it’s not a magazine, a newspaper or a TV show. LMK.com — as in “Let me know” — is a 2.3 million-page content aggregation play from Hearst Entertainment and a Hearst-incubated company by the same name. Hearst Entertainment EVP George Kliavkoff and LMK head Michael Gutkowski are banking on the notion that SEO tactics will get searchers to visit, and that automation and style mixed with some advice from subject specialists will create topic channels special enough to attract repeat visits. LMK.com starts as a standalone site but its pages are also intended for use by Heart’s various media properties and its technology may be offered to other publishers down the line.

During an interview, Kliavkoff ticked off four ways he thinks LMK can make money:

— by tapping into Hearst’s national and local sales for advertising sales;
— cost savings for Hearst properties that use the pages to supplement their own content, what he describes as an unlimited number of incremental page views with no cost);
— syndication and licensing;
— premium products.

First up: college football with team pages for the NCAA Div. 1-A teams and individual pages for stand-out players or coaches. That will be followed in a few weeks by reality TV and then another topic every few weeks. Each channel’s structure will be aided by a subject matter specialist who curates around the topic; former Sports Illustrated assistant managing editor helped with college football. But the subject experts only help setup the channel; once a channel has been curated on the front end, there’s no day-to-day human intervention. It’s all done by algorithm. Something like college football might get a touch up before each season; real-time news, photos and data keep it looking fresh. Doing it this way means “no incremental variable costs” and, post set up, a virtually “no-cost” business, Kliavkoff contends.

At launch, Kliavkoff says, LMK.com “includes very good but not great pages for 2.3 million people, places and things.” Gutkowski, who has held senior positions with iVillage, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) and Time Inc, explained how they’re taking an automated river of aggregated content and layering in topic-related modules that dress up generally available data. For college football, that means adding gimmicks like a chart that shows how AP ranking has changed for a team, charts that preview a game or show how the game was won or lost. It’s hard to say how well it succeeds since the site wasn’t live before this writing.

It seems a little odd coming out of Hearst, which is best known for its original content, but it’s part of a trend towards topical organization with heavy search engine optimization and, depending on the outlet, a varying amount of curation, edited aggregation and original content. A Hearst newspaper or TV station conceivably could use the platform and the content to add heft to its own original substance — along with traffic.