Baby Retailer Takes First Video Content Steps

As people spend more and more time on the Web, e-commerce firms like BabyUniverse are creating content and community features in the hopes of maintaining customer loyalty and scoring ad revenue. The company just launched its BabyTV.com video site, which features programming from Oxygen and Alpha Mom TV. It will serve up in-house productions as well as user-generated video. The company also plans to unveil more social features on its sites.

“All of our current [advertiser] partners want to be part of this,” said BabyUniverse President Georgianne Brown, who said most advertisers would begin running in-stream and display ads early next year.

Run-of-network display ads for pre-existing BabyUniverse advertisers, including stroller maker Bugaboo and Hyland’s, a homeopathic pharmaceutical firm, are currently served adjacent to the BabyTV video player. In-stream ads aren’t yet running, but Brown said future in-stream advertisers would be able to target pre- and mid-roll ads contextually based on metadata associated with each video. The firm also offers e-mail newsletter banner and text ads, and sends stand-alone e-mails on behalf of advertisers to its 500,000 active subscribers.

Starting out as an e-commerce play in the late ’90’s, BabyUniverse has accelerated its growth into niche content arenas through purchases this year of upscale baby furnishing site PoshTots and ad-supported content site ePregnancy.com. In March, BabyUniverse launched a weekly PoshTots e-mail newsletter highlighting baby décor trends. “It’s like the ‘Daily Candy’ for pregnant women,” said Brown.

The PoshTots site is hosted by four cartoon mascots with a “Sex and the City” vibe, offering regular features such as “Today’s Dish,” an advertiser-sponsored journal-style entry from one of the hip illustrated mamas. The company also acquired more mainstream baby products retailer DreamTimeBaby.com in 2005.

Retail and content site BabyCenter, which garnered about 2 percent market share of site visits in Hitwise’s November overall Web rankings, features in-stream ad-supported video centered on subjects relating to babies, toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Meredith Corporation’s Americanbaby.com, which received about 0.4 percent market share of visits in November, also combines video and article content with e-commerce. According to Hitwise, BabyUniverse.com attracted nearly 0.2 percent of traffic market share, while PoshTots and ePregnancy.com both received under 0.1 percent market share of visits in November.

Other larger online retailers have also incorporated video content and community features on their sites. E-commerce king Amazon.com launched “Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher,” a 30-minute weekly Web interview show in June. And Wal-Mart mimicked MySpace through a back-to-school community site that prompted boos and hisses from the blogosphere before being scrapped.

BabyTV currently has about 100 hours of accessible programming, and plans on correlating live chats and other conversational functions with certain videos early next year. Though a small selection of user-generated video exists on the site now, more robust CGM capabilities will be introduced over the next few weeks.

Viewers can check out the site’s on-demand video or plan to catch scheduled programs that start every five or 10 minutes about topics like newborn care and labor positions. “Video-on-demand, I think, will mature, but we believe viewers still enjoy that feeling [that they’re] watching this with a million other people,” Brown said, adding “We still believe there’s a sense of community associated with scheduled programming.”

The company also aims to strengthen bonds between site visitors by offering blogs and message boards, and hosting live events. A product manager of a crib manufacturer might give a demo during a live Web program, for example. Users may also be able to build their own public and private community networks. Such offerings will be ripe for sponsorships.

“We believe all of those things work together with television,” said Brown.

The firm is in discussions with affiliate marketing networks to develop a video distribution product allowing any site owner or blogger to add its content to their sites, splitting ad revenue with BabyUniverse. That offering will be enabled by technology partner Multicast, which currently powers video on the BabyTV site.

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