By Kris Oser
NBC Universal is planning to invade one of the female-only bastions of the Web-and some Internet insiders think that’s a plan doomed to fail.
Last week, when NBC Universal announced its acquisition of iVillage for $600 million, it said it would open the female-centric village to the world at large. The strategy is to broaden iVillage’s appeal to men once the acquisition is completed in the second quarter of this year and as it positions the site as a hub for NBC Universal’s digital play.
“This is a real important one-this is a base for us,” said Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television Group. The plan is to “use a base that’s well known for women as a way to start creating new, vibrant communities that go beyond women,” Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal Digital Media and Market Development, said on a conference call last week. IVillage said it has 10.9 users, the majority of them women, and NBC Universal’s digital properties have a combined 9.4 million users, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.
NBC is most attracted to iVillage’s strong advertising program, which supports one of the most successful online communities on the Internet. IVillage earned $9.5 million on sales of $91 million last year and sells ads to a roster of brands from the food, automotive, entertainment and retail sectors, said Doug McCormick, president and CEO of 11-year-old iVillage. (NBC Universal, which owns sites for each of its media properties, such as NBC.com and Telemundo.com, had digital revenue of nearly $100 million.)
According to Gregory Saks, senior associate at Compete, there’s no question that NBCU needs to get more eyeballs focused on the site. “In order to justify that price tag, NBC Universal will have to grow the user base-or increase the level of engagement per user,” he said.
NBC will reach beyond women on iVillage by beginning with the girls and teenagers who use iVillage’s Gurl.com, and also reach out to fathers who frequent the parenting section of the site.
But some think making iVillage more appealing to men will dilute the brand. “My sense would be to keep the iVillage brand as a very powerful women’s brand,” said Mike Vorhaus, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates. “If you want to do for men what iVillage does for women, build a new brand that uses the NBC brand.”
NBC should target its other female-skewing assets to build iVillage, such as the “Today” show or “The Biggest Loser,” said Eric Valk Peterson, VP of media for Agency.com. “There’s certainly crossover [from offline media to iVillage] but also a lot of unduplicated audience. I don’t know that males are ever going to flock to an iVillage brand.”