Things have been moving along slowly, but surely, in the two months since Arianna Huffington stared down the camera and welcomed viewers to HuffPost Live, the media group's grand (and expensive) livestreaming, cable TV-replacing network.
At its inception, HuffPost Live was both lauded for its bold reinvention of a tired model and flatly panned by others like Guardian columnist Michael Wolff (a former Adweek editorial director) who dubbed the outfit as "indescribably moronic." Two months in, however, the truth appears to lie someplace in the middle as comScore numbers show a respectable performance out the gate for the fledgling site and a slight increase in unique visitors for the site's second month. In its August launch month, HuffPost Live attracted 458,000 unique visitors to the site. September saw the numbers tick up slightly to 477,000 uniques. It should be noted, however, that HuffPost Live debuted Aug. 13, meaning September was the first true "full" month of operation.
So what do the numbers mean? From the comScore metrics, the site is performing more like a popular YouTube channel—certainly nothing to write home about in light of the Huffington Post's gargantuan 44 million unique monthly pageviews. However, HuffPost Live president and co-creator, Roy Sekoff, had a whole different story to tell. One, he believes, rests on user engagement.
"In the first two months we've surpassed everything we'd hoped for," Sekoff told Adweek over the phone this afternoon. He noted that in nine weeks the site has put 3,000 guests—professionals and average joes alike—on the platform's digital air. "In the moments before the launch, we were wondering, what if we launch and nobody wants to be part of the conversation? So it's wonderful to see that they do," he said.
According to Sekoff, HuffPost Live has also amassed over 330,000 comments on the live platform alone, with users spending an average of 19 minutes per visit on the site. The time-on-site metric goes a long way in illustrating real user engagement, but Sekoff suggests that one currently unreleased stat will help define HuffPost Live from a revenue perspective. "Our business model is not specifically geared toward unique visitors, it's based on video views throughout the many, many Huffington Post verticals and AOL properties," he said. WIth AOL and HuffPo's large distribution network, some of the segement videos have indeed taken off after their intital airing. One segment on "Chicago's Killing Fields" has seen over 518,000 video views, while a five-minute cutdown of a segment on African American sign language has gotten 1.42 million views.
Total video views is a stat Sekoff isn't ready to reveal yet, arguing that the site is still too young. "My theory is that we're still a baby in the bassinet at nine weeks old. You can look at the baby and say it's a beautiful one, but you can't say yet if it will be as fast as Ussain Bolt or as gifted as Mozart," he said.
Sure, the site has plenty of growing up to do, but that hasn't stopped AOL's CEO, Tim Armstrong, who has been publicly bullish about HuffPost Live's "mathematical equation for success" to rival cable. Sekoff speaks more carefully than Armstrong, noting, "I don't look at HuffPost Live as a cable competitor. It wasn't designed to be an exclusive destination itself, but I don't shy away from the fact that some who have seen the platform might not want to go back to cable," he said.
Until we get a comprehensive figure on overall video views, it will be hard to access whether HuffPost Live has the clout to live up to Armstrong's visions as a veritable cable rival. Sekoff notes October's numbers are "trending incredibly well," due in large part to the presidential and vice presidential debates, but there is no doubt that HuffPost Live's great experiment is only just underway.