Commentary

WebMD Wants To Be There In Sickness And In Health

It seems WebMD has been around for as long as there’s been an Internet--it predates YouTube by more than a decade--and if there’s a “trusted brand”  on the Web, that might be it.  Last year, WebMD Websites reached more people each month than any other government or private healthcare Website there is, according to comScore.

Also, of course, you may associate it with pain, suffering and panic because it is a go-to place for people who need answers about medical crises or conditions, theirs or someone else’s, real or imagined.

At its first NewFronts presentation, WebMD seemed to want to stress the other half because it’s also a big player in the softer side of healthcare, as in beauty, nutrition, exercise. That side carries a big pot of advertising gold. All those are also categories that have blown up on the Internet as it’s moved toward video.

Us too! WebMD seemed to be saying.  Kristy Hammam,  the editor-in-chief, noted WebMD has 76 million unique users each month, and nearly half of that audience is visiting the site for lifestyle-oriented wellness content.  It’s creating video for them that has become a major business proposition for WebMD that, like so many other video content outlets, used NewFronts to announce a new wing just to develop branded videos for its advertisers.

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'WebMD has become part of the cultural landscape, and we are better positioned now than ever before to help connect consumers with the content that they want and need,' said David Schlanger, the CEO.

Hammam said that-- perhaps well below the radar--WebMD also attracts 26 million people who exercise at least twice a week, more than any site, and claims to reach more “frequent” recipe shoppers than any food or recipe site. A lot of this stuff is being seen on cellphones; Hammam says mobile use has grown 160% year-over-year.

The site is  in the midst of creating 15 new health/beauty/lifestyle areas to widen its appeal with short, snackable pieces of info in series with names like “What They Don’t Tell You” and “In Plain Sight.”  Thursday’s NewFronts showed the flexibility and depth of WebMd’s site,  with a snippet of advice comparing “free-range” parenting to the “helicopter mom” version, a logical (if not trendoid) extension  of what a health site could be doing.

What’s actually pleasant about WebMD’s approach is that its style with the lifestyle pieces is decidedly less sugary than the same kind of health and lifestyle videos you can find everywhere else. You can watch most of these ones without overdosing on ebullience and exclamation points.

Schlanger says WebMD is well aware of the competition. “There are how-to videos all over the place,” he said.

Bigger plans seem aimed to up the volume by leaning on a little star power.  The event showcased newswoman Soledad O’Brien’s three-part “Teens and Stress” series for WebMD, and a cameo appearance by celeb chef Giada de Laurentiis to discuss healthy eating.

The bigger effort involves a partnership between WebMD and “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts, a cancer victim and survivor. Her a five-part series,”Path To A Breakthrough” that traces cutting-edge medical innovations begins later this year.

But that association may go further; at the NewFronts, WebMD said it is exploring syndicating a short weekly health news featurette, “Wellness Wednesday” to stations' local newscasts, featuring Roberts. Also, WebMD is working on a in-waiting room television service, though that’s still in preliminary stages.

WebMD doesn’t seem to be shying from the part of the Website that dispenses medical information and prevention advice.

Hammam said afterward that WebMD has done some unusual coverage of the zika virus, sending a reporter just using a smartphone to chronicle how Puerto Rico is combatting the threat, and Hamman and Schlanger said that predictably, WebMD traffic spikes at times  of health and wellness concerns.

pj@mediapost.com

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