Last week, after an 80-year run, Variety halted production of its Daily Variety newspaper, but the outlet won’t be disappearing completely. Today the entertainment publication relaunched itself as a glossy weekly magazine, also called Variety, to accompany its newly free, un-paywalled website. There, in addition to covering film and television and major Hollywood studios, it has added a new focus: streaming content.
“There’s a lot of trial and error going on here,” says Cynthia Littleton, one of the publication’s three editors-in-chief. “Reporting on entertainment has grown exponentially—there’s probably more journalistic resources dedicated to entertainment and media than anything else—and it’s forced us to look at the landscape and find our place. It’s tricky.”
Variety, started in 1905 as a weekly publication that covered theater and vaudeville. It opened its daily Los Angeles edition in 1933 and quickly became a must-read paper for actors and studio executives alike. Over the years it has coined terms like “legs” for a long-running production and “boffo” for box-office hits. In 1942, playwright William Saroyan announced his departure from MGM by writing a Daily Variety piece titled, “Why I Am No Longer at Metro-Goldywn-Meyer, or the California Shore-Bird and Its Native Habitat, or Brahms’ Double Concerto in A Minor,” in which he explained, “I left the joint because sooner or later a man gets bored with bores.” Leslie Moonves, who was an actor before he became CEO of CBS (CBS), once tried to market himself by taking out a quarter-page ad in the paper to advertise a role he’d landed on The Six Million Dollar Man. Even today, the paper is occasionally referred to as “Hollywood’s bible.”
Despite its colorful history, Variety, like so many media brands, has suffered from rounds of layoffs and declining ad sales in recent years. Revenue slid from $92 million in 2006 to a reported $45 million last year. Across platforms, its circulation today is 60,000. In 2010, the paper tried to offset losses by putting its website behind a paywall, only to see its website traffic fall off dramatically. “It was cumbersome and it didn’t work,” admits Littleton. When the paywall came down earlier this month, Chief Executive Officer Jay Penske, whose Penske Media bought Variety last year, referred to it as “the end of an error.”
Because Variety remains at heart a trade publication, it’s not subject to the whims and memes of the mainstream entertainment news cycle. It doesn’t have to lure readers with lists of 1990s boy bands or promises of Justin Bieber slideshows. Its niche audience—”showbiz news for showbiz insiders,” as Littleton puts its—may allow it to be more adaptable than its competitors. “We can do what the Daily Variety used to do on the Web,” says Andrew Wallenstein, another editor-in-chief, “and then with the weekly issue we can focus purely on reporting depth and analysis.”
Wallenstein says that Variety will intensify its coverage of digital media brands such as Hulu and Netflix (NFLX) as they slowly replace traditional entertainment platforms. Today, the website is leading with a story on Hulu, while the first issue of its glossy magazine features Kevin Tsujihara, the new Warner Brothers (TWX) CEO who is tasked with reinventing the studio to fit with the new digital landscape. That’s something Variety should know a bit about.