Why This Matters: Nimble TMZ is an example of how to grow a content empire in the age of social media and multiplatform viewing.
On Sunday, July 1, Harvey Levin, founder and executive producer of TMZ, gathered his team aboard a specially chartered boat in Marina del Rey, Calif., to watch the season two premiere of their celebrity interview show OBJECTified, airing on Fox News Channel. The premiere, which started at 8 p.m. ET, featured Levin visiting Magic Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers legend and now the team’s president of basketball operations, in his Los Angeles home.
But at 8:14 p.m. ET, something enormous happened: the Lakers announced that current NBA legend LeBron James would be joining the team next year.
The timing was distracting but also fortuitous. Levin and his team immediately took to social media to jump on the news and encourage those interested to tune into the episode’s replay at 11 p.m. ET.
The reach of that social media is not trivial due to the foundational power of TMZ, which Levin considers a studio in and of itself. Levin currently oversees four TV shows — the syndicated TMZ on TV and TMZ Live, FS1’s TMZ Sports and OBJECTified. More are coming, with a new series slated for cable in October and four in development, according to Levin.
Beyond that, the TMZ brand has expanded into podcasts, with shows such as The Red Pill With Van Nathan scoring more than 700,000 listens on iTunes and SoundCloud since its launch in February, and Spilling Royal Tea, a limited-run podcast that covered the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, receiving more than 2 million listens.
Combine all of that, and the promotional power is huge. Video views across TMZ’s platforms — TMZ.com, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and over-the-top — now measure in the billions. From January through May 2018, team TMZ racked up 1.033 billion views, up 56% from the same period in the prior year. In all of 2017, video views climbed to 1.7 billion, up from 1.16 billion views in 2016.
TMZ’s Facebook page alone averages close to 600 million monthly impressions, and this year through June it has amassed more than 3.5 billion content impressions. Twitter currently averages more than 300 million impressions monthly for all of TMZ’s properties and more than 2 billion impressions through June.
“Social media has been a sea change for us in so many ways,” Levin said. “We use it to push our various properties and push individual stories.”
Making Their Own Waves
While other content producers spend millions planning marketing campaigns, most of TMZ’s promotion comes from social and earned media, and from Levin himself.
“We don’t have scripts for anything here,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a script in this building ever. With Objectified, for me, it’s pure passion. I just love the process of how we book it, and how we prepare, shoot and market it. I’m a good salesman for it because I believe in it and I feel so passionately about the show that it’s easy for me to talk about. I don’t need a script or talking points or anything like that. I just feel like if I feel true enthusiasm for the show and I can convey that, it’s a good way of selling it.”
In advance of OBJECTified’s premiere — and before Levin knew he was going to be given the gift of LeBron — TMZ wrapped its sites with promos for OBJECTified and Levin took to the mic as often as he could on radio with the likes of Big Boy and Jim Rome to talk about the series’ return.
In advance of OBJECTified’s next episode on July 8, which featured Dr. Phil McGraw, Levin appeared in an episode of the syndicated Dr. Phil that aired July 6.
That paid off as well, with OBJECTified easily winning Sunday night among the cable news networks with 1.47 million viewers tuning in. It also won its 8 p.m. hour in the key news demographic of adults 25-54 with 240,000 watching. Of course, it helped that the Fox News audience is almost double that of competitors CNN, MSNBC and HLN during Sunday night primetime, with CNN averaging 717,000 viewers, MSNBC averaging 456,000 and HLN at 397,000.
All of this speaks to Levin’s vision of where television is headed: “I think eventually, TV and digital are going to merge and there’s not going to be TV as we know it,” he said. “And there’s not going to be an internet as we know it. I think it’s all going to be programming where you combine the assets of both to make compelling programming.”