Welcome back to another awesome installment of our ongoing interview series with the Geeky Godfathers of the Internet. As you know, our latest endeavor focuses on uncovering the tales of the grandest geeky, fanboyrific sites on the web. How’d they start? Who created them? Where are they going?
This week we were treated to a conversation with Vic Holtreman, founder/creator/progenitor of Screenrant.com, one of the largest movie news destinations this side of E!. I’ve always been curious about his site, and how he found his bearings. Screenrant is, without a doubt, among the most influential of us, but it retains a radiating sense of community. Whenever I type that venerable URL into my browser, I half expect to hear Screenrant’s homepage to greet me with a very bombastic salute, “This is no corporate shlop! THIS. IS. SCREENRANT!”
It embodies the best of my favorite sites. It’s geeky. It’s a community. And best of all, it’s got some really awesome articles.
So, without further ado, I present to you My Dinner with Andre… ahem, I mean… My Conversation with Vic Holtreman.
First things first, if you had to introduce yourself in 3 sentences, what would you say?
Hi, I’m Vic Holtreman. I run ScreenRant.com, a movie and TV news site. (OK, that’s just two sentences)
I’d have to say the first Star Wars film really solidified it. Of course I was always an avid comic book reader – Iron Man and Spider-Man were my faves back when comics cost less than 25 cents each.
Has it been a life long passion, or has it waned here and there? I tend to go in cycles (from LOTR as my most passionate obsession, to Marvel, then to Nintendo, then back around the ring). How’s it for you?
Oh, I’ve always been an avid Sci-Fi movie fan. It’s waned a bit recently as I move farther and farther away from the target demographic and I get wrapped up more in the business side of running my site, being a dad, etc.
From your short bio on the site, it sounds like you’ve had every job under the sun. Did you have any geeky jobs before you started Screen Rant?
Not sure what a “geeky job” would be, so no, not really. It was all practical work, just trying to make a living.
What really drove you to create the site? What was it like in those early years?
I’ve always been kind of fascinated by computers and tech, and back 10 years ago “weblogs” were the newest thing on what was then the fledgling internet. Yahoo and Alta Vista were still the search engines of choice, and Google was just getting started. I’ve always loved Sci-Fi movies/TV, but often I saw what I considered dumb decisions being made in casting, how Hollywood approached certain concepts, etc., and I thought I’d play around with my own website where I could complain about things I didn’t like.
Were you nervous when you changed SR from your personal project to a proper business? Or was it all a very natural process, and there was no pressure?
Ha ha, VERY nervous. I brought on now Editor-in-Chief Kofi Outlaw and was paying him monthly and it freaked me out. I was losing money and had to decide between letting him go or going back to a day job myself – so I decided to go back to a cubicle so I could keep growing the site. After three years I was able to quit and come back to running the site full time again.
In what ways have you seen the site develop since 2003? When did you start to acquire new writers? When did you expand your news? Beyond that, when did you start to really delve deeper into niche geek fare (like sharing fan art in articles)?
From 2003 to 2008 most of the development was in the look of the site and the back end – the software that powered it. I was more into evolving the look of the site and playing around with different aspects of it. I had friends that would contribute, come and go. After that I started to slowly bring on part time writers one at a time. As we added writers, we expanded our coverage, but we never strayed to far from the core genres that were the foundation of the site.
Has the site steadily grown? Or did it really explode in one particular year?
It has been pretty steady, doubling year over year to get to our current level, where things have flattened out a bit.
Was that something you’ve specifically driven? I know you’re not a corporate site, so how did you manage to grow the site so large?
Yes, it was definitely something I worked at. I have always been a stickler for quality, in depth writing on the site, covering films and TV that people were passionate about. I was self-taught in SEO and the job I had for three years also had me doing that for the company I worked for.
Your bio says you’re a Search Engine Specialist, which is something all site owners should know about (we’re guilty of slacking), so what has that entailed for Screen Rant? What type of strategy did/do you have?
Well I’ve definitely applied what I know to the site, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t mentioned anything about strategy.
The site has certainly expanded its coverage over the years, but have you still had to curb some of the topics so that you still have your niche? I imagine sometimes it was tempting to delve into Gaming since it’s so closely related to films and fandom. You’ve even started a new site focused on gaming, so was it a tough debate whether or not to expand Screen Rant itself into an all-topic destination or go the other route, and create other sites in your network?
There was never any plan to incorporate gaming into Screen Rant until Game Rant stopped making headway in Google. Thankfully, Game Rant has recently come back into the big G’s good graces so whatever brief conversations we had about absorbing it into Screen Rant are behind us.
What sites influenced you? Were there a particular few that inspired Screen Rant? Have there been newer sites since you’ve started which have inspired you to expand or change?
Oh, I’d have to say of course that the first was Ain’t it Cool News and Dark Horizons as those were two of the first really popular movie sites. Back in the day I also had a bit of friendly competition going with TheMovieBlog.com which was run by John Campea at the time. As to current sites, sure, I keep an eye on what other sites are doing, just as I know for a fact they keep an eye on us.
While the geeky topics are certainly a passion, Screen Rant is also a business, what has been the most challenging aspect of that?
Probably the fact that I started seriously turning it into a business with no business background whatsoever. Trying to balance expansion with incoming revenue and not putting myself back in the position that required me to go back to a cubicle a few years ago. I don’t have investors or VC money behind me, it’s all been me, risking my money to grow the site at a slow pace that doesn’t require me to get into debt with anyone or partner with anyone who has money.
How often are you pestered by advertisers? Or do you handle all of that inhouse? I personally find them disingenuous, these ad account managers, that is. For a site as large as yours, they must certainly be annoying.
Ha ha, DAILY. Mainly from ad networks, not individual advertisers. I ignore most requests these days, or just reply asking for fill rate and average CPM. If I don’t get a solid answer or an answer that is in the range I would accept, I just circular file them.
How’s your relationship with your readers. Both you as an individual and the site. Do you view your readers as a community or just a bunch of like minded people who get their news from the same source?
Oh, there is still a community feel among our regulars, and that was something I worked to build and maintain. But as the site has grown, so have the number of commenters and it gets more and more difficult to keep things friendly when you get over 1,000 comments a day on a site.
Do you spend a good amount of time at Cons? At press events?
I don’t personally go to press events any more and the only Con I (and my team) really cover in depth is the San Diego Comic-Con. But this year I barely even set foot in the convention center. Too crowded, lines are too long for an old guy like me to want to deal with any more.
What have been some of your proudest moments with the site?
I would say our phenomenal growth over the years, the quality of writing and commitment of the folks that contribute to the site. Those aren’t really moments, though – probably I’d have to say when I run into a well known actor or director and they tell me they read the site and they’re big fans.
What would be the one article you’d share with readers to say “This! THIS is what Screen Rant is all about!”
Ha ha, I guess I’d have to say our “About” page. We publish so many excellent, in depth articles that it would be hard for me to point to just one.
That’s all from me, is there anything I left out you’d like to talk about? Anything about yourself or Screen Rant that you’d like us to know?
Not really, you asked a lot of interesting questions, so I’d say that about covers it!