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Huffington Post to continue international expansion with South African edition

Huffington Post
Nicolas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Huffington Post will launch its 17th edition in South Africa in November, the media company announced on Friday.

"Africa is an important place in the world, but I would say that the advertising and media markets would characterize it in the emerging phase, and not quite robust," Huffington Post CEO Jared Grusd said to CNBC. "For us, that's not what's driving us. What's driving us is the opportunity to do something really important around the world."

HuffPost South Africa will be in partnership with top South African media company Media24. Even without a dedicated publication in South Africa, Huffington Post gets 750,000 monthly unique users from the country.

Though the U.S. edition is a still a major focus, more than 50 percent of Huffington Post's traffic comes from overseas, according to the company. In June 2016, it had 173 million unique global visitors and 74 million unique monthly visitors in the U.S., according to comScore. Currently, the company has more than 300 editors in 20 countries outside the U.S. International expansion will continue, Grusd said.

The South African edition was personal for Grusd because he was born there. Grusd said the number of internet users in the country is expected to grow to 34.5 million by 2018, and mobile phone users to 41.5 million. Digital video is expected to grow by more than 29 percent, as well.

Grusd, who has been CEO of Huffington Post since August 2015, is in a unique position to continue the brand since co-founder and editor-in-chief Ariana Huffington stepped down in August. Huffington left her media company to focus on a new venture called Thrive Global, a health and wellness advisory start-up. She will start there in November. Grusd formerly held executive positions at Spotify and Huffington Post parent company AOL.

For the most part, Huffington Post will continue along the same media plan he's followed since he took over the CEO post last year, Grusd said. Part of the plan has been an emphasis on helping transition Huffington Post, as audiences consume more mobile and video media.

"We've been focusing on how do we continue to expand our audiences," Grusd said. "As we know there's been giant secular shifts in terms of the media landscape from PC to mobile, from just text-based for videos. I think the opportunities for publishers have never been greater, but are remarkably different today than have been three or five years ago."

Huffington Post in its DNA is a "marriage between a media company and a technology company," giving it the ability to experiment with new formats, Grusd said. Video remains a priority for the company, he added.

For example, AOL acquired augmented reality and virtual reality production company RYOT in April. The outlet is partnering with Huffington Post to create more experimental types of films for its core properties.

"They're really on the frontier in terms of pushing the innovation on how to tell the story," he said. "We're really excited about VR and AR as experiences that deeply resonate."

The company is also emphasizing social video. It is the number 1 publisher on Facebook, according to Newswhip. Grusd said its actively experimenting with Facebook Live, even though it ended its 24-hour HuffPost Live livestream in January.

"It's not just about content," Grusd said. "We do believe in journalism. That is the heart and soul of the company, but how we express that journalism that's where the fun can happen."

Update: This story was updated to reflect Huffington stepped down in August, and will be starting at Thrive in November.