ADOTAS Advertising Week Conversations: Simon Assaad, Co-Founder, Heavy

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Without the presence and edge of Heavy.com, broadband programming just wouldn’t be the same. While major cable networks like CNN, MTV and Comedy Central have now created specialized online channels for streaming video content, Heavy.com has taken to providing original programming that weaves various facets of entertainment, including biting comedy, gaming and music.

Though we’re only now just witnessing the epoch of user-generated content in cyberspace and beyond, an outfit like Heavy has been in the game for years. The broadband entertainment network, which is targeted at men 18-34, has been successful enough that it’s parent company has spawned offshoots including MyHeavy.com, a fully integrated broadband community for people 12 — 49, and Heavy2Go, Heavy’s mobile network.

So as his MIXX panel discussion on the race between user-generated and original content in the broadband era was fast approaching, ADOTAS sat down with Heavy’s co-founder Simon Assaad, an Aussie native/New York transplant who leaped from a budding career in filmmaking to the digital entertainment realm. Assaad laid out the motives for starting Heavy and Heavy.com, its place in the broadband content funnel, the marketing implications and why the Web shouldn’t take credit for kickstarting user-generated content.

Thanks for taking the time out to chat, Simon. So tell me the past and present with Heavy.com.

We started Heavy.com in 1999. David and I had been working together in the advertising business prior to that for about two years, primarily doing digital stuff for big, mainstream agencies. The thing that we were probably best known for was we worked with Ogilvy on their IBM E-Business that won the Grand Prix at Cannes and two Gold Lions.

That really launched us a company in that period. We were always trying to sell our agency clients this idea that they should market through programming for their advertisers. The only was that it was hard for them to actually buy into that. David and I both have creative backgrounds. I was a filmmaker in Australia, and David’s a writer and classically trained musician. We had spent some time together trying to sell shows to television while we were running our advertising business.

So, we decided to launch Heavy to put up shows that we wanted to see. That was in the summer of ’99. But because we really didn’t know how to sell ads, Heavy’s revenue model then was essentially licensing content to other sites and to television. During the dotcom crash, the Heavy side of the business obviously wasn’t the main focus. The main focus was keeping the Heavy side of the business and building it, but our main focus was on the marketing side of the business. We launched Life Magazine, and we were the agency of record for American Eagle Outfitters. So although the agencies hadn’t really been interested in marketing through programming, their clients were.

When we re-launched Heavy.com at the end of 2004/beginning of 2005, we really focused on integrating advertising into the environment, into the entertainment, and really have the brands snuggle up next to each other if you will. That was something that people responded to well in the market, and we were able to build an audience through the programming and the platform.

That gets us to today, where our entire business is Heavy.com. We no longer have the marketing business. We rolled it into our ad sales division. We get about 14 ½ million unique visitors a month. 90% our revenue comes from selling ads, some of it comes from licensing out content [locally] and internationally.

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