Fandom Is Focused On Custom First-Party Segments (It’s Even Got One For “Wizardry”)

Ken Shapiro, CRO, Fandom

Enthusiasm for entertainment exists on a spectrum, from casual to obsessed.

Fandom, an entertainment, movie, TV show and culture site backed by private equity firm TPG, aims to attract all types, from World of Warcraft players to people who like dipping into the Marvel universe here and there.

“Our audience ranges from the type of person who might Google ‘Who are Jon Snow’s parents?’ to a hardcore gaming fan who posts detailed tips on how to get to the next level,” said Ken Shapiro, Fandom’s chief revenue officer.

The site, which rebranded from Wikia in 2016, is a collection of 40 million pages of Wiki Community content that generate more than 30 billion views a month. The site attracts more than 300 million unique monthly visitors, roughly 60% of which are outside the US.

“Things like sports and news tend to be regional,” Shapiro said. “But video games, movies and even TV shows – those forms of entertainment are increasingly global.”

Fandom’s advertising partners include large media and gaming companies, including soon-to-be-Microsoft-owned Activision, Disney, Apple and Paramount Plus – and the war is on to attract subscribers.

“Gaming companies consistently spend with us,” Shapiro said. “But streaming companies spent a ton of money with us in 2021.”

Shapiro nerded out with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Nerd culture has been on the rise for several years, but I feel like people really embraced their inner nerds during the pandemic (or maybe just me). Have you seen a boost in engagement?

KEN SHAPIRO: In a word, yes. Nerds have gone mainstream. In the past, there was this sense that superfans hid behind their computer in a basement, but that’s changed. If you wore a jersey, painted your face and went to a sports game, no one judged you, but that wasn’t the case if you got dressed up and went to Comic-Con. Now, you get 250,000 or 300,000 people going to the various cons.

During COVID, people consumed more subscription video content than ever. But then they’d finish an entire show over a single weekend and go online to consume even more related content. One of our unique selling propositions is being able to reach younger audiences who consume content behind a subscription wall. Although we can skew a little older in some cases, our demographics are largely on the younger side, between 13 and 34.

How do you round out the pitch to advertisers?

We have very contextually relevant data, which is good considering everything that’s happening with privacy. If you finish streaming a show on Netflix this week and come to Fandom to learn more about it in a community, we know you’re a Netflix fan, we know what show you watched and we have a sense of the genre of content you like.

How does Fandom monetize?

We can create customized segments for specific advertisers, and we also do custom research. Our main formats are video and display. We do high-impact takeovers where the first impression someone sees when they come to our platform that day is from one advertiser. Usually that’s when someone wants to promote a new show or game. We offer programmatic in the form of PMPs and programmatic guaranteed and we also have open exchange relationships.

What percentage of your sales are programmatic?

I actually like to use the word “automated.” We’re about 50/50 – 50% automated, 50% what I’d call old-school direct IOs.

What’s an example of a customized segment, by the way?

Traditional demographics aren’t always a win for us, but if you specifically want to reach Netflix fans or Minecraft fans, for example, that’s where we’re very strong. We break out things like “movie lover,” “TV watcher/streamer” – and even more detailed stuff like “wizardry.” We did a deal with Harry Potter where they were looking for fans of wizardry, which is a segment I feel pretty confident saying not a lot of other publishers have.

Do you do anything with subscriptions?

I’m in charge of the ads business, but I do work closely with the subscription side, which is mainly focused on tabletop role-playing games. We have a DTC subscription service for Dungeons and Dragons, which has more than 8 million registered users, and we bought Fanatical last year, which is an ecommerce platform for online video games.

Diversification is always a good thing. It’s all revenue.

Speaking of the need for revenue diversification, what are your post third-party cookie plans?

We’re focusing on our first-party data segments. The real risk for us is in the open market. The question we’re thinking about is how to move more advertisers into PMPs and programmatic guaranteed.

Are you developing your own in-house ad tech?

In August, we launched our first self-serve platform, which is still in beta, called Fandomatic. We’re still testing and learning.

In terms of what’s coming, we’re thinking about creating native ads that make sense for our communities, and we’re also really focused on getting people to consume more video content. Our history comes from Wikipedia, which is very text-based.

Who did you work with to build the self-serve ad platform?

A company called DanAds that also works with Hulu.

Personal question, but what do you geek out on yourself? What’s your thing?

For something recent, I loved the Ray Donovan movie on Showtime. But I’ve been watching Star Wars since I was a kid, and it’s still my favorite. My kids watch it, too. We’ve seen “The Book of Boba Fett” and “The Mandalorian” together. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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