Wetpaint, which is best known for its user-generated fan sites, is making a big move into more premium content, with the launch of 15 new, professionally-produced sites dedicated to TV shows like Glee and Dancing With The Stars. CEO Ben Elowitz says the sites, which are staffed by 10 full-time writers, along with 20 freelancers, are Wetpaint’s attempt to build “scaleable, first-class media properties.” Rather than have editors come up with story assignments, for instance, the company has developed technology that scans sources like Twitter and entertainment discussion forums to determine where “audience interest” is.
As an example, Elowitz says the system recently flagged that there was lots of interest on an entertainment discussion board about how much participants were being paid to be on the Bachelor. A Wetpaint staff member therefore put together a story on that topic, which so far has attracted more than 70,000 page views.
Wetpaint is also trying to build up a big audience for the sites on Facebook, in part by optimizing the site’s content for the social network (Elowitz, says, for instance, that the company is timing the release of stories in order to increase the likelihood that they get shared). Already, Elowitz says content produced by seven sites the company had been testing have attracted 500,000-plus “likes,” more than the total generated by People, TMZ and Entertainment Weekly — combined.
The launch of the sites is the latest move by Wetpaint away from its roots as a wiki-service. The company, which has raised more than $40 million in funding, including $25 million in a third round in May 2008, initially provided a simple service that people could use to build their own wikis on any topic.
That offering still exists, although in recent years the company has increasingly been focused on powering entertainment-oriented fan sites for third parties, including HBO and Showtime. In April 2009, MSN also said it would use Wetpaint’s wiki-platform to power more than two dozen new sites on its entertainment portal.
Elowitz says the company has been “happy” with those initiatives but saw “an opportunity to do something bigger in media.”