Glam Serves Up New Community Channel With ‘Foodie’

Glam MediaGiven that “food” is one of the top ad spending categories in the lifestyle space, it makes sense that the largely female-focused blog network Glam Media would build out a vertical devoted to that subject.

But unlike the other recent expansions of Glam’s content and related ad offerings around health and wellness, the Foodie channel is also launching today the first real demonstration why Glam paid roughly $150 million for social networking platform, Ning.

Glam is looking to distance its food channel away from crowd-sourced restaurant picks and aggregating recipes. In Foodie, Glam is working to assemble noted food critics, well-respected bloggers, star chefs, restaurateurs and other “food influentials” as part of its content offerings. And it plans to do so by creating feeds that users can view as they would Facebook statuses or Twitter streams.

“People recognize that not everything social has to be done exclusively through Facebook and Twitter,” said Glam founder and CEO Samir Arora in an interview with Adexchanger. “Foodie is not just a content experience; it’s a social network.”

Just like Google eventually went from search into maps, Glam wants to be able to offer consumer products directly. Users will be encouraged to follow the personalities who will be the face of Foodie, such as the latest Iron Chef winner, top chef Geoffrey Zakarian and the former New York Times and International Herald Tribune food critic and noted food author, Patricia Wells. “Everything gets merged into the users feed, just like Facebook,” Arora said.

In addition to building on the Ning acquisition, Foodie also follows on two tools the company embarked on last summer: GlamCreate, which offers sites it works with the option of handing over ownership of the content they create in exchange for Glam picking up the increasingly expensive hosting costs. That arrangement was accompanied by the platform GlamConnect, a precursor to Ning that served as a community for blog authors that is designed to foster more collaboration among Glam’s properties as looked to expand its “social ads” program.

And then there are the verticals. As part of its foray into owning and operating the websites in its verticals, which also include the flagship Glam for Women and Brash for Men, last year Glam unveiled Bliss, its health and wellness vertical.

“To understand the introduction of Foodie, think about Glam’s history,” Arora said “We started with a simple idea: people will be the filters for content. We built that network with publishers and then advertisers. The fundamental of phase one, therefore, was that publishers create content, we handle the tech. Stage two was — just like HBO and Netflix decided to do — we wanted to produce our own content.”

Unlike past announcements, Glam has lined up two large, traditional marketers as launch sponsors for Foodie, General Mills’ Betty Crocker and yogurt purveyor Dannon Activia. The vertical has immediate reach of 10 million monthly users – globally, Glam says it attracts 220 million uniques, with 90 million of them in the U.S. – who can access Foodie’s 100 food writers and critics and 1,000 recipes.

Glam has five verticals now and hopes to add another two this year. After that, if it all goes well and the demand continues to be there, Glam will consider adding four more. (Arora wouldn’t say what the other verticals might be.)

The closest idea for Foodie is something like the well-known and sophisticated Michelin Red Guide, which Arora believes will help attract other big marketers.

To do that, Glam will also publish a mobile app and its first physical product – a print booklet like the Michelin Guide — since its founding in 2003. It’s kind of usual for a web-only entity to move into print, but Arora explains that when it comes to restaurant guides, consumers demand both digital and physical.

So could this entry into a traditional media format like print also mean that Glam is also going to consider TV?

“We’ve been asked many times by print magazines to do TV, to create or license Glam’s brand and we’ve always said no – it’s not in our DNA,” Arora said. “What we found was the physical guide book is very important. Eventually, guides will go away, but right now, mobile and print is crucial. But we will be doing more video, so at some point, if someone wants to use our content, it could be a possibility.”

In the meantime, Glam is aiming at taking away TV ad dollars and bringing that spending to the network’s verticals. “Unlike print, TV and video is very much a part of what Glam does,” Arora said. “We don’t compete with TV, and we have no desire to create a cable model. We’re launching Foodie TV as well, and it could be a large accelerator of the shift from TV ad spending to the web.”

By David Kaplan

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