6 mins read

Literally Media’s CEO, Oren Katzeff, on monetising and re-inventing legacy brands and collaborating with the creator community

It’s an issue that concentrates the minds of publishing executives across the globe. How do you take respected and loved legacy brands and keep them relevant in an age of AI, TikTok and programmatic ad markets? What are the best strategies for keeping existing readers engaged while seeking new audiences and new routes to monetisation?

These are questions that Oren Katzeff has been addressing in the past eighteen months as CEO of Literally Media.

Even if you have not heard of the company, you will be aware of the brands. Know Your Meme, Cheezburger, and eBaum’s World are iconic comedy and culture brands that have their roots in the explosion of the web in the early noughties. The company’s other key brand, Cracked, dates back even further, having started as a print magazine back in the 1950s, a competitor to Mad Magazine no less. They are a company with an unrivalled reach in the comedy/culture sphere of over 200 million people globally each month.

Creating a ‘modern media company’

“The way that I describe Literally Media is that we are a portfolio of Internet culture and comedy brands,” explains Oren.

“The interesting thing is that if I talk to a group of people about any of those brands, there’s usually at least one person, if not more, that points and says ‘My God’, eBaum’s World, or Cracked! I used to spend lunches at college or at my apartment just sitting reading article after article after article.

“So, on the one hand, we’re capitalising on nostalgia. But we also have to transform the brands to deliver what I call a modern media company. The phrase modern media company has been used, but in our case what it means is really redefining the editorial voice for each brand, making sure that we are staying true to what we think works. And what our audience think works”

The tools Oren and his team use to keep the brand fresh are very contemporary. Oren says his team are smart about social, and very data-driven, especially around SEO. He acknowledges, too, that “being not too attached to things that maybe we love but that aren’t performing,” enables the company to push forward.

Tapping into the content creator community

In his eighteen months at the helm, Oren has been resolutely focused on diversifying the company’s revenue sources.

“If you took a snapshot of the company two years ago, we were largely in the programmatic and direct business, meaning we’re driving a lot of content to – over a hundred million pages a month. So it’s lots of impressions. Then over 90% of our revenue derived from the monetisation of ads on site.

“What I wanted to do was to diversify that portfolio of revenue. And that’s really been largely my efforts the last year and a half. So one has been a big investment in video. We have 17 Snapchat shows, and we invested more in the creation of Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok video. And we’ve seen pretty good growth across video in general. Also that largely involves the platforms themselves monetising out content. Snapchat and Facebook monetise our video for us and with TikTok we’re working on direct deals. The Know Your Meme TikTok channel has over two million followers. It’s pretty significant that we’re going to monetise through brand deals.”

A second area Oren has innovated on is the creation of brand live events, which also act as a potential source of new talent.

“We’ve recently launched in the event space under the Cracked umbrella. We’ve done live comedy shows in New York, and we’re looking to expand into LA and in San Francisco. But the nice thing about this model is that it opens the door for us in the creator space. We’re working with a lot more creators today. We can put them on stage to collaborate as well as work with them on content creation.”

It is a win-win for both Literally and the creators. Literally gets to experiment with new talent on new show ideas. They also get access to communities that otherwise might not have been accessible. Meanwhile, the creators are able to generate revenue and grow their own audience.

“Our work with creators lends itself very well to the business of Internet culture, and comedy and memes, and there’s a lot of personality to that,” Oren says.

“We are going to develop our own content and have our own IP. We’re going to collaborate with people on co-creation of IP, we’ll licence some content. We’ll create a connected TV channel as well.

“By the way, when I talk about collaborative creators, I’m not really talking about the top two percent that do very well. They don’t really need us. There’s not a ton that I can do for them either. So I’m happy that they’re doing as well as they are. If they want to collaborate, we can. But there’s a massive percentage of creators who are not making that much money. And so with them, if I can put the audience and revenue opportunities in their hand again, grow their brand and hand in hand grow ours, the business model makes a lot of sense.”

He has tools and data at his disposal about that space that other companies might not have, Oren explains. “I can say to them… ‘Let me tell you what’s hot in the comedy space. Let me tell you what brands are and advertisers are looking for. Let me tell you what’s working on Snapchat and YouTube when it comes to content creation’.  And so, it becomes more of a collaborative relationship with them as opposed to just: ‘Hey, let me put you to work and grind you into creating content.’ “

The social media conundrum

One of Literally’s most intriguing moves has been the increased level of resources they have put into social media channels. In some ways this runs counter-intuitive to a lot of current media thinking, which sees Facebook as unreliable when it comes to delivering traffic and Twitter as becoming less and less influential under its new-ish management.

Oren Katzeff agrees that companies need to be wary of the platforms. 

“The reality for everybody in the media, and I think anybody who says that it’s not like this is lying, is that all relationships with social platforms are what I would describe as ‘tentative.’ It’s like a friend who you can go out to the bar and have a fun time with, or you will have weeks and weeks of great text exchanges with them, and they’re very good friends of yours. And then you have six months where you’re like, what happened to Joe? I don’t hear from him any more…  So I am not going to base all the happiness in life on my friendship with Joe. In the same way I’m not going to base my entire business on how any of the platforms deliver traffic to me.”

“When I first started I talked to the team about this. I stressed to them that we’re not going to get the same level of traffic from social two years from now, that we are today. So I said let’s start building for that moment and to me that comes back to the content, we create the audience that we develop on our own sites. The relationship we build through newsletters, in that direct conversation with them knowing that over time social traffic will become less or lesser part of our business.”

Next on Oren Katzeff’s agenda are the streaming video companies. He believes that there is an opening for the company to debut longform content that would work on those platforms. 

Also he is focusing on brand and advertising relationships. and, ultimately growing Literally sales, 

“We now have more assets than ever before,” he says “Those assets are prime for sponsorship and sales with advertisers. And I hope to make a big mark in that world in 2024.”

You can hear more about the creator economy, the potential or otherwise of NFTs and more in the video conversation below.