Hollyworld: A New Glo in Tinseltown

glo Hollyworld: A New Glo  in TinseltownAs the sun drenched the beach in Santa Monica one morning last week, I sat in a conference room nearby and surfed the Web with Lloyd Braun and Gail Berman. Mr. Braun is the former ABC network programming chief who famously was fired after green-lighting Lost (and lives on as the stentorian voice of “previously, on Lost” on the show); he subsequently had a two-year stint running the media operations of Yahoo in headier days at the Web portal. Ms Berman is a former president of Paramount Pictures who also headed entertainment at Fox Broadcasting for several years. Their offices are in a compound where quite a few Hollywood players hang their shingles—reserved spaces are set aside for veteran Joe Roth and Date Night director Shawn Levy, among others. But we weren’t looking at TV pilots that morning but rather something rather East Coasty in style and delivery: a new women’s lifestyle online magazine called Glo.

In and of itself, Glo is not that remarkable: The everywoman site features photos of pretty (but not too pretty) models and stories on how to organize your entryway, cool clothes for rainy days and pieces on “body insecurity.” What grabs attention, though, is how much Glo resembles a physical print magazine, and the parties who banded together to create it: BermanBraun, Microsoft and Hachette Filipacchi, publisher of such magazines as Elle, Woman’s Day and Car and Driver. Whether Glo works or not, its debut a couple of weeks ago says something about the evolving relationships between old and new media and among West and East Coast corridors of cultural power.

Over the past years of digital hurly-burly, one thing has been repeatedly and abundantly clear: New York, Hollywood and Silicon Valley are distinct animals, and the species have a tough time interbreeding. Think of the connection between these three locales as a kind of Bermuda Triangle into which many dollars and promising careers have disappeared. As Scott Moore, the head of MSN’s content efforts (and a former colleague of Mr. Braun’s at Yahoo) put it: “The media business is all about emotion and connecting readers with stories,” whereas the tech world is “about problem solving, very binary and research-based and logical.”

Glo grew out of a relationship BermanBraun already had with Microsoft, under which the L.A. firm a year ago launched Wonderwall, a celebrity site that has proven a quick success not only at attracting page views but also at convincing readers/viewers/users to stick around for a while. What is interesting about Wonderwall—and now Glo—is the degree to which the sites are visually driven. Ms. Berman and Mr. Braun frequently refer to “programming” their Web sites, and don’t think of themselves as publishers. Todd Anderman, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.’s senior vice president of digital media, says that in co-founding Glo, there was no internal angst about cannibalizing the company’s existing print-based sites, like Elle.com.

Glo’s content is a mix of original features and content, roughly 25 percent of it material from Hachette, and other stuff from MSN and around the Web. (And there is plenty of linking and pitching to Hachette sites, as well as Microsoft’s Bing search engine.) As with the recent indie start-up magazine Lonnie.com, it is striking how much Glo mimics the look and page layout of a conventional magazine—though, as with Wonderwall, much of the magic with Glo is in its navigational tools rather than its content.

Until recently, the erroneous impression around Tinseltown has been that BermanBraun is another production company set up by former studio execs talking a digital game. But more than half of its staff of roughly 50 are digital and technology folks, some of whom followed Mr. Braun from Yahoo. The company also develops actual TV shows, but notably it is not trying to create online “Webisodes” of original programming, for which there is not yet much in the way of a business model. (Another project it is doing is building a new online fantasy football league for the NFL.)

MSN’s Mr. Moore says he is now inundated with potential publishing partners who want to create new brands on the back of Microsoft’s well-trod portal. Conceptually, Glo is a new wrinkle on a question that has vexed publishers for years: Are they smarter extending their known physical brands into the digital world, or creating new brands? If Glo is any indication, the answer for now seems to be to do both, because, as the famed Internet futurist William Goldman once said, nobody knows anything.

rsiklos@observer.com