Hearst Starts Silicon Valley Development Unit, Acquires BranchOut Assets

Hearst Corp. on Friday announced the launch of a new digital development unit in Silicon Valley to build new apps and services across the publisher’s diversified media properties.

Leading the new group will be Rick Marini, formerly CEO of online professional networking startup BranchOut, which Hearst acquired assets from along with its technology team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported that BranchOut was in talks with potential buyers, including Hearst, which was interested in acquiring the company’s mobile development team and the enterprise chat app Talk.co. app it launched a year ago and was shut down on Monday. A Hearst spokesperson declined to comment.



Serial entrepreneur Marini previously founded social entertainment site SuperFan and co-founded social media site Tickle.com. He will report to Hearst CTO Philip Wiser.

The new development group will be housed within the downtown San Francisco offices of Hearst-owned digital marketing firm iCrossing and launch with about a dozen staffers. “Our overall goal is to capture the attention of users with a new wave of engaging mobile apps and services,” stated Hearst CEO Steven R. Swartz.

Hearst claims an audience of 200 million monthly visitors globally to online brands, which include the digital versions of magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Elle and Good Housekeeping, 15 daily and 34 weekly newspapers, and 29 televisions stations including Lifetime, A&E and the History Channel.

Hearst and other publishers are racing to catch up with audiences shifting rapidly from the desktop Web to smartphones and tablets. Since last year, Americans spend more time on mobile devices, on average, than on PCs, according to comScore. Further, apps dominate time spent in mobile, accounting for seven of every eight minutes of media consumption.

Hearst already offers dozens of apps tied to its magazines and TV stations, but people tend to spend most of their time with apps from just a handful of companies, including Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, per comScore.

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