Monday, November 12, 2007

Minyaville.Com Success Story

Six months ago, was an obscure provider of financial news that, among other things, featured an animated bull and bear named Hoofy and Boo that bantered about the day's headlines.

Today, Minyanville Publishing & Multimedia is in a much different position. The company provides content to major financial sites, from Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo Finance to Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Money and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL Money and Finance. It also supplies video clips of its animated characters to News Corp.'s Fox Business News.

Behind Minyanville's ascent is a frantic search by the big Internet companies for fresh content. For years, AOL, MSN and other Web heavyweights used many of the same sources of news -- often traditional media outlets -- to fill their finance, real-estate and entertainment channels. Smaller providers of information often had to pay to publish on these sites. But with traffic to the major portals starting to level off, those sites are looking for something new and different to feature -- and that, in turn, is creating some opportunities for the little guys.

Financial sites such as Seeking Alpha and the Simple Dollar, real-estate site Zillow and celebrity photo site X17online aren't exactly household names. But all of them have landed deals to put their content on big portals. This is creating significant increases in traffic to many of these small sites. Minyanville's relationship with Yahoo, for example, brought in about 12% of its traffic in September, according to comScore Media Metrix. In some cases, the smaller sites are also getting a cut of any ad revenue generated by the portal.

Big Internet companies such as MSN and Yahoo have small teams whose job it is to "discover" these smaller sites before their competition does. They scan the Web, attend industry conferences and hobnob with start-ups to get names of talented but obscure content providers. Marty Moe, vice president and general manager for AOL Money & Finance, says he has started making informal deals with smaller blogs and other sites in order to fast-track the process. "The contract process can be slow," Mr. Moe says.

Mark Interrante, general manager of Yahoo Finance, says he is looking for sites that give more color and context to basic financial data. For example, he recently agreed to use content from a national network of local business journals that he says will provide regional perspective on broader market trends.

In all, Yahoo Finance uses information from more than 100 outlets, including traditional media companies such as the Associated Press and more recent sources such as the blog of Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz.

The rules of these partnerships are also changing. In the past, the big Internet companies traditionally demanded some window of exclusivity with smaller content providers. Today, the big sites will often not only give the smaller sites a portion of the ad revenue but also allow them to work with other companies.

"The notion of exclusivity is gone," says David Liu, a senior vice president at Time Warner's AOL unit. Most of the smaller sites are producing original content for the portals.

The new flexibility on the part of the portals stems in part from the slowing growth in traffic. While Yahoo Finance posted 20% growth in September over the previous year, traffic to both MSN Money and AOL Money and Finance dropped 9% for the month, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Zillow founders Richard Barton and Lloyd Frink, who helped build the travel Web site, started meeting with all the major Internet companies before launched. Six months after the Web site went live in February 2006, Zillow started providing its home-valuation model to Yahoo, and the relationship has continued to expand.

"Although we are a much smaller company in some regards, we have many, many, many more people focused on the real-estate portal than they do," says Spencer Rascoff, chief financial officer and vice president of marketing for Zillow. In addition to its home-valuation model, the company, which has about 160 employees, provides Yahoo with more than 100 articles about real estate.

Minyanville has a smaller operation, with 20 full-time employees who produce a newsletter for investors analyzing the market, financial-news commentary and a series of online business-news videos. The site's founder and CEO, Todd Harrison, previously was president of the New York office of hedge fund Cramer Berkowitz.

In May, TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. signed a deal to license the newsletter for its top-tier clients and become the site's first sponsor. But in the world of online business news, Minyanville was miniscule. And then the big Internet sites came calling.

"I look at it as a bit of serendipity," Mr. Harrison says.

Ex-Wife Accused of Torching Bison Head
How To Turn $60 Into $1000 In Three Months With Domain Names
Truth VS. Manufactured Bullshit
Top 10 Facts About Top 10 Anything