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Variety Drops Paywall, Kicks Gray Upstairs, Adds Eller for Editorial Troika

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 26, 2013 at 1:09PM

The Variety shoe has finally dropped as media mogul Jay Penske has tapped the L.A. Times' Claudia Eller and Variety staff editors Cynthia Littleton and Andrew Wallenstein as the new editors-in-chief of Variety, charged with leading the 100-year-old trade through its next non-print evolution.
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Variety logo

The Variety shoe has finally dropped as media mogul Jay Penske has tapped the L.A. Times' Claudia Eller and Variety staff editors Cynthia Littleton and Andrew Wallenstein as the new editors-in-chief of Variety, charged with leading the 100-year-old trade through its next digital evolution.

Cynthia Littleton
Cynthia Littleton

Until now the biggest change Penske had made since acquiring the once-Tiffany trade in September was promoting web-savvy Michelle Sobrino as Variety publisher, the first woman to hold the position. Eller and Littleton mark the first time that women editors have run the Variety newsroom. Eller will be in charge of overseeing film, Littleton television and Wallenstein digital content.

As expected, 31-year-Variety veteran Tim Gray has been kicked upstairs for "a leadership role," Variety reports, "overseeing expansion of international coverage and other special projects such as the recent violence-and entertainment issue." Gray, like his predecessor and Variety columnist Peter Bart, was wedded to the print tradition, and dismissed the importance of online as he and former Variety publisher Neil Stiles embraced a deadly five-year subscription/paywall print/online model. See Gray's revealing CBS interview below, in which he describes Variety as "a small-town newspaper," he said. "The people that we're writing about are the people who are the readers, and they're also the advertisers." He also refused to admit that print was dead. Well, Daily Variety is no more.

Claudia Eller
Claudia Eller

Clearly, Penske, whose Penske Media also owns websites Deadline, TVline and Movieline, also agreed with many observers that six costly print editions with an online paywall was a failed strategy.  The revamped Variety website promises more tech bells and whistles and easier navigation on multiple device platforms. "Internally, we've been referring to the paywall dropping as 'the end of an error,'" Penske told Variety. "It was an interesting experiment that didn't work. We look forward to welcoming back longtime Variety readers when the paywall drops March 1." Penske continues:

"When PMC purchased Variety last year, we committed to the digital evolution of this great brand. We're accelerating this strategy by heavily investing in our editorial staff, technology, video production and responsive design -- all with the goal of providing the best experience for our dedicated readers. Having three editors-in-chief -- Claudia, Cynthia and Andrew, each renowned for their coverage of film, television and digital/new media, respectively -- is an innovative approach to address the quickly changing media landscape. It is designed to foster collaboration in our coverage of these three core areas of entertainment."

Wallenstein
Wallenstein

Finally, Variety follows The Hollywood Reporter's move to cease printing daily and focus on one weekly print edition. While the old Weekly Variety will no longer be delivered to industry insiders' doorsteps on Sunday mornings, the new print edition of Variety, which debuts March 26, will be published every Tuesday throughout the year, with plenty of room for "dozens," says Sobrino, of lucrative ad-driven special editions, under the continued guidance of executive ediutor Steve Gaydos. This is the ad engine that makes the trades possible. But the trade, with some 20,000 subscribers, will take an initial financial hit, and layoffs are expected. Trimming the staff needed to put out all those print editions may mitigate to some degree the loss of immediate revenue.

Historically, Variety originated as a New York-based weekly publication in 1905, and expanded to a Hollywood-based daily edition in 1933. The last print daily will publish on March 18.

This article is related to: Media, New Media & Technology, Variety


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.