HealthCentral trying the consumer health roll-up

While Healthline aggregates audiences through joint-ventures with other Internet players, HealthCentral looks to lock-up content by buying smaller sites and applying its business model to their content.

Last year I profiled Healthline, a consumer health portal with an interesting affiliate business model aimed at competing with Google and Microsoft in the Personal Health Record market.

Today a press release gave me the chance to look at another player you may not have heard of, HealthCentral, which seems to be engaged in what I would call a "roll-up" model.

The difference is that while Healthline aggregates audiences through joint-ventures with other Internet players, HealthCentral looks to lock-up content by buying smaller sites and applying its business model to their content.

HealthCentral started in 1997 as an Emeryville, Calif. company built on the celebrity of Dr. Dean Edell. Edell still does syndicated "health specials" for the company.

HealthCentral was acquired by an outfit called MDChoice in 2002 and again in 2005, this time by a consortium of venture capitalists and The Carlyle Group. It is now based in Reston, Virginia and usually called HealthCentral Networks.

Under President Jeremy Shane and chief revenue officer Peter Horn, a Microsoft veteran, the business model seems to be leveraging the credibility people give health care communities through techniques like e-mail marketing.

It acquires these relationships the old-fashioned way. It buys them. Working with a cash horde of $50 million, some of it from Barry Diller's IAC, it has acquired sites like ADDitudemag.com, TheBody.com and now the creator of Stanford's BeWell, some 50 in all.

Most are vertical sites, geared to specific conditions. BeWell is an exception, as is HealthScout, acquired last year.

The trick is to monetize these visitors without letting them know they're being monetized. That's what makes the latest acquisition so special. Wellsphere, which created BeWell, has mobile, enterprise, and "incentive" programs, as well as widgets, extending the reach of the site well beyond the browser.

Combine sophisticated marketing, strong finance and good relations with Madison Avenue and you've got a player.

Now let's see how much game they have.

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