New Boss, New Content Fuels IVillage’s Growth

NEW YORK Just over a year after it was acquired by NBC Universal, iVillage is enjoying robust advertising and traffic growth even as the women’s portal faces growing competition from other quarters.

As of May, iVillage had exceeded 17 million unique users, its highest total since last October, and its user base had shown year-over-year increases for 11 of the past 12 months, according to comScore Media Metrix. More impressively, ad revenue for the 12-year-old Web property surged by 46 percent in first-quarter 2007 and another 40 percent in the second quarter, far outpacing the 19 percent growth predicted for the general market.

While NBCU does not disclose revenue figures for iVillage, Adweek sister publication Mediaweek has learned that the site expects to pull in between $120 million and $140 million in revenue in 2007, including advertising, subscription fees and partnerships, up from roughly $95 million generated in ’06. These growth figures come as more women gravitate to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and in the face of the rapid rise of Glam Media, a network of female-oriented blogs that recently eclipsed iVillage in total uniques, according to comScore.

IVillage president Deborah Fine, who took the reins in July 2006, said she has focused on bolstering the site’s content, aiming to become a daily destination for its users. “When you make yourself that relevant, you become mission critical to your readers’ lives,” said Fine. Since Fine came on board, the site has launched four new vertical sections, including a Weddings channel through a partnership with TheKnot, as well as the eco-themed iGo Green.

But perhaps most surprising is the content route that iVillage hasn’t taken since it was acquired. “We knew it couldn’t be NBC Jr.,” said Beth Comstock, president at NBC Universal Integrated Media. “We had to take the [longtime] user into account. Content has to be natural.”

That approach has meant launching online tailgating parties tied to the show Friday Night Lights and an astrology tie-in for Medium, rather than blasting Heroes logos all over the home page. Another example comes this fall when the site will unveil Bonfire Magazine, a virtual version of the fictional magazine depicted in the upcoming NBC series Lipstick Jungle.

And along with NBC, according to Fine, über-parent company General Electric has played an equally large role in forging content synergies for the site, particularly within its health and green channels. On the advertising front, a similar organic approach has helped the site grow revenue. Examples include a recent microsite created for Schick using iVillage content centered on the theme “Simplify your life,” as well as a newsletter launching this summer created specifically to promote the TNT show The Closer.

While core categories such as beauty and consumer packaged goods have fueled this year’s big numbers, Peter Naylor, NBCU’s vp of digital media, noted that his team has landed several nonendemic brands, including BP, Bank of America and Nintendo.

Chang Kim, media director at MindShare Interaction, praised the speed at which NBC and iVillage have integrated their operations, and also pointed to their ability to offer custom-ad solutions “They can definitely create content if you need it,” said Kim.

Comstock said iVillage’s future plans include investing more in social networking technology, while the company continues to tinker with iVillage Live, the interactive TV show launched this past season in 10 markets.

Insiders say that the show will be relaunched this fall with more of an iVillage voice. While NBCU has taken some heat over the show’s initial ratings, Comstock insisted no one is panicking just yet. “What we are trying to accomplish [with the show] is to create a bit of a laboratory,” she said. “We are learning so much.”