In June, it brought in 8.8 million unique visitors, according to comScore, compared to the 1.9 million uniques it got in July 2014, when comScore first started tracking it. It spiked to 11 million uniques last November and hasn’t gone below 8 million in the eight months since – which counts as consistency for a viral site dependent on Facebook traffic.
“We had to build a big enough audience in order to have enough to direct sell,” Levitt said. “I don’t want to go out and direct sell banners. Programmatic is fine for that. I want to go out and direct sell sponsorships.”
Rare hired its first salesperson in early 2014 and now employs three direct salespeople who sell integrated packages that include sponsorships, native and pre-roll.
Besides the traction in country music, the company is speaking with political campaigns. Levitt thinks Rare will be a “successful tool for politicians to get their message out,” especially because of its engaged users and scale – with the site’s political bent a secondary consideration.
Rare, which is also building sister sites focused on personal finance and sports, is nurtured by Cox Media Group but has the freedom to do things differently from its parent, Levitt said. For instance, it doesn’t have to use legacy technology or processes.
It’s also profitable, Levitt said, with programmatic revenues laying a strong foundation for the business. “It’s no longer an investment from a Cox standpoint.”
The staff grew from 10 people last June to 25 now, and Levitt expects to employ 35 to 40 people by the end of the year, including strong expansions in editorial.
As Cox Media’s publishing experiment takes off its training wheels, there’s the question of how it will grow up in the Cox family.
For one, Rare gives back: It shares some of its insights, like how to publish news for social channels, to other groups within Cox. And eventually Levitt plans for Rare’s income to be a bigger contributor to Cox’s overall business.
“It’s not going to happen in the next year, or the year after, but being bigger than the radio station and TV clusters?” Levitt said, “Those are realistic goals in the next three to four years.”