Not surprisingly, Christie Hefner, the outgoing CEO of Playboy (NYSE: PLA), was a no-show for her scheduled appearance at the UBS Global Media and Communications (PDF) conference. Instead a quartet of the company's execs sought to make the case that Playboy's long-awaited web relaunch will turn things around. The new website debuts January 20, which Bob Meyers, Playboy's EVP, alluding to more than just President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, said "That's the day change starts."
Not much was said about the announcement that Hefner is exiting the company. Linda Havard, Playboy's CFO offered a brief comment: "We don't know how long the search [for a new CEO] will take. The board will be looking for candidates. In the meantime, I'm sure Christie will make herself available as we need her."
While Playboy has made a number of well-regarded digital moves over the past few years, Meyers, conceded that web traffic has been flat the last few years. In a preview of what the new site will look like when it's unveiled in Q1, the Playboy site will sport a wide array of social net features. Aiming for local ad dollars, the site will also have a city guide, which will be based on a content sharing deal with Blackbook. Also, taking advantage of the rise of smartphones, Playboy's mobile site will be loaded with new photos and access to archives.
Asked about the state of the company within a darkening economy, Havard, Playboy's CFO, made a point of saying that the publisher is recession-resistant, mainly because "we're not as dependent on ads." However, as Meyers added, the magazine is dependent on ads. And the website is designed to generate more ad dollars as well as additional subscription revenue. To aid those efforts, Playboy is forming an online-only ad sales team. More to come
By David Kaplan