February 18, 2008 3:36 PM PST

GoFish out to hook youth marketers

Club Penguin and Webkinz are rare success stories in the realm of sites that can draw tens of millions of loyal tweens and teens. So one company is bundling dozens of smaller kids sites to build one big marketplace that will appeal to advertisers.

San Francisco-based GoFish plans to announce Tuesday that it has cultivated relationships with several sites tailored to children and teens, including the kids' virtual world Whyville; game sites Miniclip, GameGecko.com, and Hallpass; as well as Cartoon Doll Emporium, a doll dress-up site for girls. With a distributed network of these sites, GoFish offers marketers a way to advertise to kids between the ages of 6 and 17. All combined, GoFish's ad network and properties reached about 9.4 million U.S. visitors in January, according to research firm ComScore.

"Kids are not watching TV as much. We're in an area that's a must-buy for advertisers," said Tabreez Verjee, president of GoFish.

GoFish is playing into a larger trend on the Web toward building networks of sites that reach one target audience. Glam Media, for example, aggregates hundreds of women-focused and fashion sites, with a scope of about 24.6 million visitors in January, according to ComScore. Sportgenic is another advertising and publishing network that combines hundreds of sport-enthusiast sites. Federated Media Publishing specializes in recruiting professional bloggers and lumps them into several content areas, such as design or technology.

"Ad networks used to be for the advertisers nobody wanted to see on sites that no one wanted to visit," said Barry Parr, media analyst at JupiterResearch. "Now we're seeing vertical networks that reach a specific audience really engaged in what they're watching and reading."

"By focusing on building a network that actually represents something, I think they have an interesting story to tell advertisers," Parr added.

GoFish has a storied past. In 2003, the company started as a multimedia search engine that powered video and audio search for AOL and Ask.com. Two years later, when user-generated content grew popular, the company changed its focus to launch a video-sharing site that would rival YouTube. That didn't pan out, but on October 31, 2006, the company went public on the over-the-counter market in a reverse merger and raised $12 million from a group of institutional and private investors. Last July, the company shifted again to build its youth-focused advertising network. It nearly bought teen site Bolt Media to become one of the largest video networks, but the deal fell through.

Since then, GoFish has been quietly partnering with kids sites. Other sites in its network include Cookie Jar Entertainment, owner of sites like The Doodlebops and Spider Riders; and Piczo, a teen site for self expression.

GoFish sells advertisers the ability to run graphical ads, sponsorships, Flash animations, or specialized games across its network of sites. The company also syndicates video content from partners like MTV Networks and runs that video with ads on its own site, GoFish.com.

Advertisers on the GoFish network include AT&T Wireless, Cartoon Network, and Kellogg's.

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