WhoSay targets superfans with a digital magazine made up of celebrity social media content

By Michael Carney , written on September 17, 2013

From The News Desk

Celebrities generate seemingly endless media engagement, yet, in nearly all cases they are the subject of media rather than the drivers of – and more crucially, the beneficiaries of – that coverage. Or at least so goes the pitch of WhoSay, a three year old bi-coastal startup that works with 1,600 global sports and entertainment celebs.

For its initial two years, WhoSay has focused on enabling these stars clients to safely distribute and manage the rights to the content they publish across social media channels. This week, the company is unveiling what co-founder and CEO Steve Ellis explains has always been its true vision and mission: “a media company by, with and for celebrities.”

The first incarnation of this vision, launched quietly last week, taking the form of a Flipboard- or Pulse-like interactive and customizable digital magazine aimed at fans and compiled of celebrity social media updates, images, and videos, alongside WhoSay-created editorial content. Think of it like 2013’s answer to People Magazine, where the hottest celebrities of the moment cycle through the role of editor and chief. ]

Today, the company is launching a mobile version of the same product – iOS only initially. This is a crucial step given that more than 70 percent of all WhoSay’s engagement currently occurs on mobile devices. An Android version of the app should be expected by year’s end, according to Ellis.

Users who download the app can choose to follow their favorite celebrities on the platform, or select from broader genres like “Oscar Winners,” “Comedians,” or “Soccer.” As WhoSay increases its editorial team, eventually this content will also be personalized to match specific fan preferences.

The company’s clients, which include Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Rihanna, Steven Tyler, Naomi Campbel, Eva Longoria, and Magic Johnson appear to have bought into the vision long ago. Collectively, this highly influential group has more than 1 billion social media connections across all platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and China’s Sina Weibo – and they have each agreed to let WhoSay distribute the content they create across through an entirely new channel.

“We give [our celebrities] an easy way to speak directly to their most important and loyal fans across the entire media landscape, and for the first time ever we make sure they share in the value they create from their original content and their fan relationships,” Ellis said in a statement this morning.

The value that the WhoSay CEO speaks of is advertising revenue. The company’s digital magazine will be free to read and won’t contain any blatant banner ads. But the company does plan to incorporate a heavy dose of “native advertising” – aka, ads that look like the content native to the platform. WhoSay has a small but growing sales team, and will be responsible for selling these branded content placements, but will share in the upside with its celebrity clients.

“This isn’t a tabloid – there’s plenty of unpleasant elsewhere,” Ellis tells me. “We’ve created a very brand safe, brand friendly environment. There’s a reason that celebrities have driven such massive engagement and advertising dollars for decades now.”

WhoSay has two million registered users and receives between 7 to 8 million unique visitors each month, according to its CEO. While the company hopes to increase this number significantly, it really is a service for the super-fan – the one who wants to know what CeeLo Green ate for breakfast and what dress Eva Longoria is planning to wear to an awards show.

While Ellis declined to share details of WhoSay’s financial performance, the company has raised $19.3 million to date, including a $12 million Series C round in July 2012 led by Comcast Ventures. The company is also backed by Greylock partners, Amazon, High Peaks Ventures, Chinese social media portal Tencent, and global talent agency CAA, which is credited as a co-founder of the company. WhoSay has 35 employees today split between Los Angeles, New York, and London.

WhoSay has excelled at powering the social media activity of celebrities, although it’s likely to see increasing competition in this category. But it’s the editorial competency that remains an unknown quantity for the company today. Creating a fan-facing media consumption experience and regularly generating compelling editorial product is an entirely different skill set – one that often proves challenging even to those with decades of experience and success in the industry. WhoSay will have a lot to prove in this regard. And celebrities will likely be less forgiving than their fans if the quality is not up to par.

With the appeal of celebrities unlikely to wane any time soon, there is no doubting the opportunity to create an authentic and compelling media company in their own voice. Given its roster of A-listers firmly established, WhoSay is in a stronger position than most to execute on this vision.

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