Today, Arianna Huffington’s online news phenomenon The Huffington Post is making its European debut, with the launch of Huffington Post UK, the third site in what AOL (NYSE: AOL) hopes will become a rapidly-growing franchise by the end of this year.
The launch of HuffPo UK has come with impeccable, if unplanned, timing.
With all the controversy surrounding the News of the World, specifically those sordid allegations of mobile phone hacking to collect information, some have speculated that it’s a controversy that could extend beyond just the one newspaper.
At the same time, all eyes have been on the Internet to catch the latest revelations. Enter Huffington Post, which is not a newspaper, is new to these shores, and is formed with a crowdsourced mentality at the heart of its editorial content.
“If you look at the top-ten comScore news sites in the UK, all of them have offline entities,” claims Kate Burns, the SVP for AOL Europe. “Our site will be the only independent and truly digital destination for the UK.”
Still, it will be a big climb to get content volumes, and therefore traffic, on HuffPo UK anywhere close to what the U.S. site is producing. Carla Buzasi, the slightly nervous-sounding editor-in-chief of HuffPo UK, says the site will only start out with 300 unpaid bloggers, compared to the 10,000 currently writing for the U.S. edition. She promises, though, that the number in the UK is ramping up fast, which is just as well: given how big the U.S. property is today, there is a lot of expectation for the UK site to be running fast from the word go.
That will mean, initially, sourcing a lot of the U.S. content in areas where the editors “think the UK is interested,” she says. “Although some subjects, like British politics, will need British journalists.” Users with a UK IP address will automatically get redirected to the UK site, although they can still elect to read the U.S. or Canadian versions instead.
Burns points out that while the content has some growing to do, it has a good start on the audience. The U.S. site already attracts 1.2 million monthly unique users from the UK, according to comScore (NSDQ: SCOR).
But advertising may be another story.
Specifically, it doesn’t sound like HuffPo UK has gotten any takers for its new, interactive, premium ad units marketed as “Portrait” in the U.S. “HuffPo UK will be enabled for the Portrait format,” says Burns. “But we are working to secure a launch partner in terms of the opportunity.”
Update: With the launch of the site today, AOL has announced that Dell and LG (SEO: 066570) are its two inaugural brands using the Portrait format, also known as “Project Devil.”
Further international expansion? Burns: “We are addressing other markets at the moment, and we will definitely be covering the top-five in Europe in their native languages.”
That will continue with HuffPo’s existing practice of taking on unpaid bloggers — although it also looks like HuffPo will also build on the already-rich news landscape in the UK by also forming partnerships with news organizations. “We’re not in a position to reveal their names,” says Burns. “We hope to be in a position to announce something on Wednesday.”
What about mobile platforms? Apps for the iPad, iPhone and Android devices will come, says Burns, although they won’t be present at launch. “We’re talking weeks rather than months” before they are ready, she says.
The site launches officially on Wednesday, with a media event scheduled in London in the evening.